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John Hoppner (1758-1810)

Princess Sophia (1777-1848) c.1785

RCIN 400168

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This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785. Princess Sophiawas 8 years old at the time. The young Hoppner, whose German parents both probably held positions in the household of George III, had been recommended as ‘a lad of genius’ to the King, probably in the early 1770s. He was placed with John Chamberlaine, later Keeper of the King’s drawings and medals, and also trained as a chorister at the Chapel Royal. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1775 and exhibited there from 1780 until 1809, showing mostly portraits and some ‘fancy’ pictures. The portrait appears to have been one of the first of many royal commissions. Hoppner was particularly favoured by the Prince of Wales, who appointed him Principal Painter after the death of Reynolds in 1792. This portrait of Princess Sophia was hanging in the King’s Closet in the private apartments at Windsor in 1813. According to a contemporary record, Hoppner travelled to Windsor to paint the Princess. It has been suggested this portrait of Sophia emulated the portrait of Miss Keppel (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum) painted in 1782 by Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom Hoppner greatly admired. Although highly critical of his rivals’ exhibits at the Royal Academy in 1785, Hoppner’s own contribution did not escape unscathed. Horace Walpole described this portrait as ‘poor’ in his copy of the exhibition catalogue, whilst an anonymous reviewer wrote, ‘We cannot compliment the artist upon his success in portraying the lovely subject. He has attempted a tenderness of colouring, and failed in giving that prominence to the features, which is requisite.’ Hoppner’s historical reputation has suffered partly because of the supposed rivalry between him and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Both artists were made full Academicians on 4 April 1795 and two weeks later George III passed over Lawrence, his Principal Painter, to place a commission with Hoppner for a full-length portrait of the Princess of Wales in her wedding dress. However, after a quarrel with the King, Hoppner’s commission was revoked and given to Gainsborough Dupont. Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004