Studio of Charles Jervas (c.1675-1739)
It is highly unusual to find a pair of full-length royal Georgian portraits that have remained together since they were painted. The present works, depicting George II and Queen Caroline, are two such examples and were painted in c.1728 to celebrate their coronation.
It is highly unusual to find a pair of full-length royal Georgian portraits that have remained together since they were painted. The present works, depicting George II and Queen Caroline, are two such examples and were painted in c.1728 to celebrate their coronation...
George II was born in Hanover and was the eldest son George Louis, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1683-1727) (later King George I of Great Britain), and his wife Sophia Dorothea of Celle (1666-1726). The relationship between George’s parents was complicated to say the least and in 1694 their marriage was dissolved and Sophia was expelled from the court. Wary of unhappy unions, George’s father was in no rush to see his son enter a loveless marriage and it was only after a failed negotiation with Princess Hedvig Sophia of Sweden (1681-1708) that George met Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline (1683-1737). George immediately fell in love with Caroline who was famed for her beauty and intelligence and in September 1705 they were married.
When Queen Anne died in 1714 George’s father, as the nearest protestant relation to Anne, acceded to the British throne as King George I and George and Caroline were made Prince and Princess of Wales. Their early years in England were turbulent due to a problematic combination of language barriers and ambitious English politicians who viewed the Hanoverian royals as little more than ambassadors. Nevertheless, George and Caroline were popular amongst the public and when George I died in 1727 George and Caroline acceded to the throne as King George II and Queen Caroline. It was around this time that the present portraits were painted.
According to the art-historian George Vertue (1683-1756), George II, who had little passion for art or literature, disliked having his portrait taken and refused to sit for many of the leading artists of the day. As a consequence, few artists had life-sittings with the King, and many of the poor-quality images that were produced in England during his reign derived from a prototype by Sir Godfrey Kneller of 1716, painted when the sitter was Prince of Wales. Even William Kent, the architect and painter who succeeded Charles Jervas as the King's painter was refused a sitting with the monarch.
Fortunately for Jervas, however, his talents did not go unnoticed and according to Vertue both George and Caroline sat to the artist in 1728. This may be the same sitting that George gave to Jervas in August 1728 for a portrait to hang in The Guildhall, London where it remains to this day. Our portrait of George follows the composition of the Guildhall work quite closely but has been mirrored so that George is facing left. There are also subtle differences in the positioning of the legs, the arrangement of the crown and orb on the table and the building in the background. In our work Westminster Abbey has been replaced with a building resembling the old St James Palace - George and Caroline’s principal residence.
These ‘coronation’ portraits were clearly well received and were replicated by Jervas on several occasions. As to be expected, few of these portrait pairs have remained together and the only other surviving pair, which precisely match the compositions of our works, are now in the collection at Merchant Hall in Bristol, having been acquired from the estate of Sir James Adam Gordon (1791-1854) in 1856.
Charles Jervas was born in Ireland in 1675 and received his artistic training both in England at Kneller's Academy and in Rome. The style that he cultivated on his return from Italy made him Kneller’s natural successor when that artist died in 1723. Jervas made an extensive study of the Old Masters and made numerous copies after them and after artists such as Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), the vast majority of which remain tantalisingly lost or unrecognised. It became fashionable by the time that Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was compiling his Anecdotes of Painting to draw a scathing contrast between this education and the use that Jervas made of it, but in fact although his treatment of the figure follows the convention that his sitters desired, his vivid colour shows a profound and dramatic understanding of the Northern Italian masters.
 ‘Vertue Note Books’, Vol.3 (1933-4) The Walpole Society, Vol.22. p. 35