This work is currently on view in our display A Brush With Fashion: 500 Years of Male Portraiture until 20th May.

We are grateful to Christopher Lloyd CVO for confirming the attribution to Sir Thomas Lawrence on first-hand inspection of the work. We are also grateful to Jacqui Ansell, Senior Lecturer Christie’s Education, for her commentary on men’s fashion which has been incorporated into this catalogue note.

King George IV’s love of fine clothing is legendary, and few artists recorded this fondness for fine fashion as eloquently as Sir Thomas Lawrence. Painted in around 1815, this portrait shows the ‘Prince of Pleasure’ in all his sartorial splendor.

Royal portraiture was often intended to impress and intimidate in equal measure and one way to achieve this was through the clever combination of expressive postures and sumptuous dress. George’s large physique has been exaggerated here by the robes of the Order of the Garter which broaden his silhouette and...


Read more

This work is currently on view in our display A Brush With Fashion: 500 Years of Male Portraiture until 20th May.

We are grateful to Christopher Lloyd CVO for confirming the attribution to Sir Thomas Lawrence on first-hand inspection of the work. We are also grateful to Jacqui Ansell, Senior Lecturer Christie’s Education, for her commentary on men’s fashion which has been incorporated into this catalogue note.

King George IV’s love of fine clothing is legendary, and few artists recorded this fondness for fine fashion as eloquently as Sir Thomas Lawrence. Painted in around 1815, this portrait shows the ‘Prince of Pleasure’ in all his sartorial splendor.

Royal portraiture was often intended to impress and intimidate in equal measure and one way to achieve this was through the clever combination of expressive postures and sumptuous dress. George’s large physique has been exaggerated here by the robes of the Order of the Garter which broaden his silhouette and emphasise his masculinity. These robes were ceremonial as opposed to everyday wear but were often the garment of choice for courtiers due to their historical significance and connotations of strength, bravery and loyalty.

The Order of the Garter was established in 1348 and was (and still is) one of the most prestigious chivalric orders in Europe. Membership is at the discretion of the sovereign and consists of the King or Queen, the Prince of Wales, and 24 Knights Companion. Membership was traditionally awarded to those who distinguished themselves on the battlefield but was also granted in recognition of national or personal service to the sovereign. It was an honour that even some of the most respected courtiers in the country were not granted, so those that were bestowed the privilege would flaunt their robes in portraiture. So successful was this garter robe portrait-type after its introduction in 1814, that it became the established prototype for all official portraits of George thereafter.

Although steeped in tradition, the garter robes evolved slowly over time, incorporating elements of the fashion of each era they were worn through. The beribboned white doublet and breeches worn here represent a fossilised fashion of the mid seventeenth century which evolved from the doublet and breeches combination seen in earlier portraits of Charles I in robes. A notable concession to contemporary fashion in this portrait is the high neckline, formed by stiffened collar and copious cravat which provides a flattering frame to George’s face. A further contemporary twist is his tousled hair which adds heroic dynamism to his appearance – a look that he favoured throughout his life, even when this necessitated wearing a ‘naturalistic’ brown wig.

No ceremonial costume would be complete without jewellery, which is worn in abundance in this portrait. This is no ordinary jewellery of expensive gold, silver and enamel – the jewels seen here carry weight of great symbolic significance. Each of the four collars represent a particular order of chivalry to which the Prince Regent is proudly declaring membership.

The ‘Great George’ hangs lowest on his chest, accompanied by the circular blue garter (centred by the red cross of Saint George) sewn onto his robes at his shoulder. Whilst the Order of the Garter is the most prestigious of the British orders of chivalry, the future George IV also shows off the most prestigious of the Continental European orders – the Order of the Golden Fleece (founded in 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy). The fleece can be seen hanging as the first pendant worn by the Prince, and here it is overlaying the collar of the Guelphic Order, with its golden lions. The Guelphic Order was founded in April 1815 by the Prince Regent himself. The cross of this order (just glimpsed here hanging from the second collar) is centred by the white horse of Hanover. A second cross hangs from the third collar, and this one represents the Order of the Bath (founded by George I in 1725).

The overwhelming effect of this dazzling combination of drew and jewellery is one of finery, splendour, and implicit chivalry that creates an image of authority and power. The clothing, in the form of ceremonial ‘costume’ accrues and conveys meaning that speaks, or rather shouts, of a proud history and heritage of a nation, bound up in the body of its ruler.

Lawrence’s portraits of the Prince of Wales in Garter Robes

Regarded by some as ‘the grandest and most glamorous portrait ever painted of a British monarch’,[1] the full-length prime version was commissioned by Lord Charles Stewart in 1814. Such was its reception that it became the established prototype for all official portraits of George thereafter. The present work appears in areas to be exploratory and may well have had some preparatory function. While essential artistic information, such as the badges of the Greater George, the symbol of the Golden Fleece and the Guelphic and Bath orders, are deftly recorded, as well as how they are placed and relate to each other in context, multiple motifs such as the continuous chain links of lions passant and crowns are left as rudimentary blocked in outlines, punctuated by fleeting highlights to suggest their form and positioning, once Lawrence had completed one or two examples of each in detail. The portrait has also been trimmed on all sides, suggesting that it might once have had an unfinished perimeter, a common phenomenon among the multiplicity of unfinished works included in Lawrence’s posthumous studio sale. Further indications of this being an exploratory work are evident in the form of pentiments, most particularly around the hair which originally consisted of a four-centimetre hackle of wayward locks which Lawrence may have thought appropriate to modify for the purposes of royal decorum.

Christopher Lloyd, former Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures, who has inspected the present painting, has suggested that it may be a ruminative autograph work that was never fully resolved, and which remained in Lawrence’s studio. A picture that might have fitted this description – ‘three quarter portrait, the original head from which all the state pictures were painted’ – was in Lawrence’s studio sale of 1831, although it has not so far been possible to link its twentieth-century provenance with its last documented appearance at a British Institution exhibition in 1856, the technical and stylistic reasons for considering it to be the present work are plausible. In order for Lawrence to produce both autograph and studio versions of the state portrait, it would have been necessary to have had a clear record of both the King’s likeness and the intricate orientation and details of the orders, and it could easily have taken the form of a combination of resolution and shorthand that is stylistically evident in this painting.

Although the quality of this portrait is indeed evident, its large scale combined with the fact it was painted during the peak of Lawrence’s career means that assistance from the studio in basic areas such as the column in the background and areas of the red hanging drape should not be discounted. This is entirely to be expect and indeed it is inconceivable that any major works painted by Lawrence at this date did not involve a certain amount of collaboration with his talented assistants.

Curiously, with the exception of a version in the Vatican Museums and Galleries, Lawrence seems to have omitted from the Garter portraits prior to c.1820 the Order of the Golden Fleece and collar which the Prince was awarded separately in 1814 by both Austria and Spain. It is unclear why he did this, although it is possible that the Royal household considered it inappropriate for home display to include a Catholic order – and indeed that may have been a contributory reason why this particular likeness might have remained a studio reference image prior to a Golden Fleece version being required in the next decade.

It is known that this portrait-type, most familiar to us in full-length form, was considered one of the preferred official likenesses of the King, and thus studio and other replicas were dispersed amongst his most illustrious supporters. The recipients of these portraits included institutions such as guild halls and universities, ambassadors and favoured aristocrats. For the most part, the dispersal of these likenesses is well documented and although most of these works have been identified and accounted for, there are a few which are now considered lost.

We know, for example, that Lawrence painted a portrait for Count Münster of Hanover and another that was formerly in the Russian Imperial Collection in St. Petersburg.[2]

This portrait was owned by Isabel van Wie Willys, ex-wife of John North Willys, who made his fortune as the second largest car manufacturer in America in the early twentieth century. Mr and Mrs Willys built up a formidable collection of Old Masters, acquiring many of their important paintings through dealers including Duveen Brothers and Reinhardt Galleries.[3] The decreasing fortunes of many great European families at this date meant that fine paintings were relatively easy to come by, and the increasing demand from wealthy Americans for iconic British art meant that many important royal portraits such as this were sold abroad.

This portrait was sold at auction following the death of Isabel van Wie Willys and subsequently entered the collection of the celebrated Cuban railroad magnate Oscar Cintas, whose collection of Old Master paintings was supposedly regarded as the best in Latin America. Following his death the collection was dispersed at auction in London, and the present work was bought by art dealers Leggatt Brothers, who then presumably sold it to Nancy Tritton (née Oakes), recorded as the owner in 1973.[4] The work was then placed in storage and sold privately in 2014.

[1] Levey, M (2005) Sir Thomas Lawrence, New Haven & London: The Paul Mellon Centre, p.206

[2] See Millar, O (1969) Later Georgian Pictures in the Royal Collection. London: Phaidon Press, vol. I, p.78.

[3] See for example the so-called Madonna Willys by Giovanni Bellini (1425/3-1516) c.1480 which was bought by John North Willys in 1915 from Duveen Brothers and subsequently sold at auction by Isabel van Wie Willys in the same sale as this work.

[4] Wood, C (Christie’s), letter to Kenneth Garlick 11 July 1973, Kenneth Garlick Research Papers c.1950-2002, National Portrait Gallery Collected Archives, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Receive information about exhibitions, news & events.

We will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.
Close

Basket

No items found
Close

Your saved list

This list allows you to enquire about a group of works.
No items found
Close
Mailing list signup

Get exclusive updates from Philip Mould Gallery

Close

Sign up for updates

Make an Enquiry

Receive newsletters

In order to respond to your enquiry, we will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in any emails.

Close
Search
Close
500 Years of British Art