Royal baby discovered!
April 25 2014
Picture: Philip Mould and Co/Historic Royal Palaces
Forgive the plug, but here's an interesting discovery I'm rather pleased with. The above portrait shows Princess Augusta (1737-1813) when a baby. Augusta was the eldest daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales and Augusta, Princess of Wales, and also the elder sister of King George III. The picture came up for auction in the United States as 'a portrait of an unknown baby' by an unknown artist. Following research and conservation by is, it is now on display at Hampton Court Palace, as part of their new 'Glorious George's' exhibition (which is well worth seeing).
Despite being an unknown (and one must say, not especially cute) baby, the picture piqued my interest when it came up for sale because of the blue velvet and ermine cushion. Blue velvet and ermine usually denotes royal status, and as the armoured figure resembled Britannia, I reckoned the baby must be a British royal baby.
From the pre-cleaning photo, I thought the child might be James III, being heralded as the new heir of James II. But there was no proof of this, and for a while I was stumped. Then, cleaning revealed a picture painted in a later style, and also (excitingly) the signature of Charles Philips (1708-1747), which pushed the timeframe forward into the 18th Century. Now Philips was quite an obscure figure, but he was patronised by Frederick, Prince of Wales, and so for a while my favoured candidate was a baby George III.
But it was only when I saw a full length portrait of the Princess of Wales holding the same baby, but inverted, (below) by Philips at Warwick Castle that I finally got the right kid. In the background of the large picture we see Britannia with her shield, confirming the shield-less figure in the smaller painting to be Britannia too (as opposed to, say, Minerva). The newly discovered painting is evidently unfinished, and a number of pentimenti visible in the background show that it was probably an abandoned composition in favour of the larger full-length. Interestingly, it turns out that our newly discovered picture was engraved, with the strapline that the young princess was 'painted from ye life' by Philips.
The presence of Britannia makes the picture an interesting piece of royal propoganda. Since the young Augusta was the first Hanoverian heiress to be born in Britain, she was proudly heralded by her parents as an emphatically 'British' royal baby. Frederick, Prince of Wales was estranged politically from his father, George II, and actively tried to present himself as a British prince, in opposition to his German-speaking dad. 'Rule Britannia', for example, was first sung in Frederick's presence. Indeed, such was the tension between Prince of Wales and his father that when his wife went into labour, Frederick insisted they flee Hampton Court, so that the baby could be born in London, as a Londoner, away from the King and Queen. Poor mother and baby were raced over rough roads, and just got to St James' Palace in time for a healthy birth.
Now, the newly discovered portrait of the Princess hangs just opposite the very stairs that her pregnant mother raced down, as she and Frederick prepared to leave Hampton Court. I'm dead chuffed, and, if you'll further indulge my boasting, I'm also pleased to have balanced my recent Jacobite portrait discovery (of Bonnie Prince Charlie) with this Hanoverian one.