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Antoine Pesne (1683-1757)

Frederick II, King of Prussia (1712-86) 1747 - 1748

Oil on canvas | 265.8 x 177.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 406797

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  • Antoine Pesne was a French-born Rococo painter of historical subjects and portraits. His finest works exhibit masterly brushwork and brilliant colouring, accompanied by a perceptive characterization of his sitters. From the 1740s onwards Pesne was in the service of Frederick II of Prussia (‘the Great’) a renowned  patron of the arts, producing decorative schemes for Schloss Charlottenborg and Sansouci.

    This large full-length portrait of Frederick II of Prussia (known as 'the Great') was presented by the sitter to his first cousin Frederick, Prince of Wales in January 1748. Originally on display at Carlton House, the private residence of Frederick, Prince of Wales, it probably entered the Royal Collection after the death of his wife Augusta. In the Royal Collection, the painting is first recorded in the Privy Chamber at Kensington Palace in the inventory of 1818; it also appears in Charles Wild’s watercolour (RCIN 922157) hanging in pride of place over the mantle. The magnificent frame for the painting can be identified as the one provided in 1749 by Paul Petit for Frederick, Prince of Wales, described in his accounts as ‘richly carved with a Eagle and septer at Top with two Saveges Supporters Standards in their hand and Trophies of warr’; it must have left the collection in the early twentieth century and was recently discovered by Carlton Hobbs. The first version of this composition was of the head and shoulders of the sitter as Crown Prince dated 1739 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), which was employed subsequently for many autograph and studio replicas. The present version sets the figure at full length in armour with a battle raging in the background. The distinctive qualities of Pesne’s art are clearly visible in the brilliantly frothy indistinctness of the background and the sharp clarity of the figure, both elements painted with a strong, impasto touch.

    The painting appears in Pyne's illustrated 'Royal Residences' of 1819, hanging in Queen Caroline's Drawing Room at Kensington Palace (RCIN 922151).
    Provenance

    Presented by Frederick the Great of Prussia to Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1748

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    265.8 x 177.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    287.8 x 199.1 x 12.5 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Frederick the Great (1712-1786)