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Messrs Dickinson : London (active 1890-1910)

A Levée at St James's Palace 1905?

Oil on canvas | 152.6 x 305.8 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 407149

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  • Levées, or royal receptions, were a regular feature of the reign of King Edward VII, the first taking place on February 12, 1902 at St James's Palace. Here we see the interior of the Throne Room, crowded with guests and royal officials; the King stands in the foreground, the Prince of Wales (later George V) to the left and Prince Charles of Denmark (later Haakon VII of Norway) to his left. His Majesty's Body Guard of The Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms stand in the centre of the room and also guard the two door entrances at the rear of the Throne Room.  

    Newspaper reports of the King's first levée described it as an 'exceptionally brilliant function', beginning with 'a reception of the ambassadors, who passed before his majesty in order of precedence, followed by their secretaries and the naval and military attaches, subsequently taking a stand by the side of the members of the royal family'. All those who knew the King kissed his hand, although they did not kneel, as was customary when kissing the late Queen Victoria's hand. Outside large crowds had gathered to watch the arrival and departure of guests.

    However, Edward Marsh, then a junior Clerk in the Colonial Office, recorded a rather different impression of a reception in 1902:

    'The levée was the most wearisome performance & I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I think of the manner in which 1500 of the educated classes spent their morning. It took about an hour to get round… & when one reached 'the Presence' one was rushed through with just time to make one's bow to the red, bored, stolid sovereign.'

    The room is hung with the Coronation portrait of George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence (RCIN 405918), which hangs there to this day, flanked by portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert after Franz Xaver Winterhalter. A watercolour by Louis Haghe records a Levée held by Queen Victoria for Volunteer Officers in 1860 and presents a different picture hang (RCIN 916813).

    The wooden, rather awkward rendition of the figures suggests the painting may have been derived from a photograph. Indeed the attempt by James Joshua Foster (of Dickinson and Foster) to visit the Throne room in 1902, to make sketches, with a view of completing a painting of a Levée were rebuffed by Sir Arthur Ellis.


    Presumably acquired by King Edward VII

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    152.6 x 305.8 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    168.6 x 320.8 x 7.7 cm (frame, external)