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Benjamin West (1738-1820)

Prince Adolphus, later Duke of Cambridge, with Princess Mary and Princess Sophia Signed and dated 1778

RCIN 405406

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West’s arrival in England from Italy in 1763 occurred at a time when artists were seeking to create a distinguished national school of history painting. George III was eager to support such a goal and was also a keen supporter of the proposal to found a national academy for the teaching and display of arts: his patronage of West and the foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768 were closely intertwined. At the King’s instruction, ‘The Departure of Regulus’ (OM 1152, 405614) was shown at the first Royal Academy exhibition in 1769; he succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as President of the Royal Academy in 1792. West painted around sixty pictures for George III between 1768 and 1801. From 1772 he was described in Royal Academy catalogues as ‘Historical Painter to the King’ and from 1780 he received an annual stipend from the King of £100. In the 1780s he gave drawing lessons to the Princesses and in 1791 he succeeded Richard Dalton as Surveyor of the King’s Pictures. Between 1776 and 1778 George III commissioned as set of five double or group portraits of his family to hang together in the King’s Closet at St James’s Palace (OM 1142-5 and OM 1147, 404573-4, 403398-9 and 405406). His Queen and twelve of his children are included in the arrangement (two appear twice); every portrait is filled with action, instruction and affection, making them seem almost like extended versions of the conversation pieces commissioned by George III’s parents, such as OM 573, 405741. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780. Prince Adolphus and Princess Mary support the infant Princess Sophia on a carved and gilded chair. In the background is a view of the gardens at Kew with Sir William Chambers’s Great Pagoda.