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Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)
The Prince of Wales

1782

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George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) (1762-1830) commissioned this portrait as a gift for his friend, Colonel St. Leger. He ordered a portrait of St. Leger at the same time, which he kept and which is still in the Royal Collection. The Prince longed to join the army, but his father, George III, refused to let him do so until long after this portrait was painted. The uniform in this painting must therefore have been his own invention - a form of wish-fulfilment.

This portrait shows the Prince of Wales's wish to be a soldier. Ask the children to draw themselves as what they would like to be in 15 year’s time.

The Prince wears the Garter Star on his breast. The fringes on the epaulettes and sash add movement to the costume. Gainsborough paid careful attention to the texture of the fur and horse’s mane against which the Prince is leaning. The Prince is shown as a young gentleman at ease, informally posed in rural setting with his horse at rest. Meanwhile the military elements suggest a manliness, status and glamour. The Prince gazes to one side, striking his authoritative pose but not acknowledging the viewer while the horse turns his head towards us.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) was born in Suffolk, but trained in London where he met the leading craftsmen of the day, becoming aware of continental artistic trends without going abroad himself. Between 1748 and 1759 he set up a successful portrait practice in his native Suffolk, producing images of the local gentry. He also sketched and painted landscapes for his own amusement throughout his life; this interest can be seen most vividly in the backgrounds for some of his portraits.

In 1759 he moved to the fashionable spa of Bath and became an overnight success, enabling him to demand ever-higher prices for his works. He charged £20 for a quarter-length portrait, £40 for a half-length and £60 for a full-length.

Thomas Gainsborough, The Prince of Wales, 1782
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 250.1 x 186 cm
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection
(The National Trust): 2258
Pose and Expression
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