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Press release

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 whom George IV secretly and illegally married, has been acquired for the Royal Collection by The Royal Collection Trust and will go on public display in a new exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

The pencil drawing of Maria Fitzherbert by Richard Cosway will be shown in George IV: Art & Spectacle, which examines the King’s flamboyant public image, all-consuming passion for collecting, and taste for the theatrical and exotic.

Commissioned by George for Maria in 1789, the portrait is an affectionate portrayal of Fitzherbert, in contrast to the contemporary satirical prints that publicly ridiculed her and her relationship with the Prince of Wales. Maria 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.

In 1784, the 22-year-old George, Prince of Wales met Maria Fitzherbert and quickly became infatuated with her. Already twice widowed, Maria was an unsuitable match. The following year a wedding ceremony was conducted in secret by the Reverend Robert Burt, whose debts George had paid off to secure Burt’s release from prison. The marriage was not valid under English law because George’s father, George III, had not consented to it.

The Prince of Wales went on to marry his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, in 1795. The couple disliked each other on sight and separated shortly after their wedding. George’s numerous mistresses are well documented, yet, despite periods of estrangement, he remained largely 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.

When Prince of Wales, George appointed Richard Cosway his ‘Principal Painter’. The artist produced many portraits of the Prince’s family and friends, and acted as his artistic adviser. A list from 1820 of the artist’s outstanding debts reveals that the King owed Cosway more than £2,800 for his services, 40 guineas (£42) of which was for the portrait of Maria Fitzherbert.

Exhibition curator Kate Heard said: ‘Cosway’s work was much admired by George IV, who commissioned numerous portraits from him. 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.’


George IV: Art & Spectacle is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 15 November 2019 – 3 May 2020.

The accompanying publication, George IV: Art & Spectacle, is published by Royal Collection Trust, price £29.95 from Royal Collection Trust shops.

A selection of images is available from www.picselect.com.  For further information and photographs, please contact the Royal Collection Trust Press Office, +44 (0)20 7839 1377, [email protected].

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