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Newly acquired portrait of George IV’s favourite mistress, Maria Fitzherbert, to go on public display

Release date: Thursday, 31 October 2019

Richard Cosway, Maria Fitzherbert, c.1789

Richard Cosway, Maria Fitzherbert, c.1789 ©

A portrait of Maria Fitzherbert, the woman George IV secretly and illegally married, has been acquired by The Royal Collection Trust for the Royal Collection and will feature in a new exhibition George IV: Art & Spectacle at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (15 November 2019 until 3 May 2020).

In 1784, the 22-year-old George, Prince of Wales met Maria Fitzherbert and quickly became infatuated with her. Already twice widowed and six years his senior, Fitzherbert was an unsuitable match. The following year a wedding ceremony was conducted in secret, but the marriage was not valid under English law because George’s father, George III, had not consented to it. Throughout George’s later short and ill-fated marriage to his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, he remained devoted to Fitzherbert, whom he described as ‘the wife of my heart and soul’. Upon his death in 1830, the King was buried with a miniature portrait of Maria around his neck.

As the Prince of Wales’s ‘Principal Painter’, Richard Cosway produced many portraits of George’s family and friends, and acted as his artistic adviser. This drawing, commissioned by George for Fitzherbert, is an affectionate portrayal, in contrast to the contemporary satirical prints that publicly ridiculed her.  She is shown wearing a necklace with a pendant portrait of her lover; the pair are known to have exchanged such tokens of affection throughout their relationship. Exhibition curator Kate Heard said: ‘This beautiful drawing is a wonderful example of the artist’s sensitive and fluid draughtsmanship, and also a reflection of the Prince’s devotion to Maria Fitzherbert.’