The royal wedding between Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton has been the talk of the town for months. Two hundred and fifty years ago, another royal wedding – that of King George III (1738–1820) and Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818) – was on every Londoner’s lips. As Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), said of the marriage – and impending coronation – of the royal pair, “The town of London and the city of Westminster are gone quite mad with the wedding and the approaching coronation. People think and talk of nothing else.”
Shortly after the marriage and coronation took place in September 1761, Scottish artist Allan Ramsay (1713–1784) was commissioned to paint full-length portraits of the king and queen in their coronation robes. The demand for replicas of these portraits was so voracious that Ramsay and his assistants spent much of his remaining life producing dozens of copies, not only for the royal residences, but also for public buildings and private houses in Britain and abroad. To meet the demand, according to Ramsay scholar Alastair Smart, the artist ran his studio like a “veritable picture factory.” A visitor recounted seeing Ramsay’s “showroom crowded with portraits of His Majesty in every stage of their operation.” The result was the mass production and global distribution of copies of the coronation portraits.
The IMA is fortunate to possess fine replicas of the coronation portraits that were once owned by a member of the House of Windsor: both were formerly in the collection of Prince George, Duke of Kent (1902–1942), who was the fourth son of King George V (1865–1936) and brother of King George VI (1895–1952).
The paintings were installed this week in the Clowes Pavilion, just in time for today’s royal wedding. Their placement in the Clowes Pavilion heralds a reinstallation of British paintings in the pavilion’s balcony gallery that will take place next month.