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Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

Field-Marshal Gebhardt von Blücher (1742-1819) 1814

Oil on canvas | 270.9 x 179.2 x 3.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405148

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Lawrence was the most fashionable and also the greatest portraitist of his generation. He was made Principal Painter to George III in 1792 after Reynolds’s death, and received occasional commissions; however it was only after 1814 that George IV began to employ him in earnest. This portrait was painted when the sitter was attending the Congress of London in 1814; it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1815, though it remained in Lawrence's studio until his death. The portrait seems to have always been intended for what became the 'Waterloo Chamber' and celebrates the great Prussian Field-Marshal’s achievement in leading the Silesian army into Paris in 1814. After this portrait was painted Blucher became Commander-in-Chief of the army of the Lower Rhine and arrived at the opportune moment during the Battle of Waterloo. Blucher is shown in Field-Marshal's uniform, wearing a miniature of George IV, the ribbons of the Orders of the Black Eagle of Prussia and the Iron Cross of Prussia and the stars of the orders of Maria Theresa of Austria, St George of Russia and the Black Eagle. In the background an Uhlan mounts a charger. The commanding gesture recalls the ancient statue of the Emperor Augustus, then as now in the Vatican; Reynolds’s military portraits suggested the idea of using Classical quotations and the arrangement of hero seen from below against a personal storm-cloud. The Waterloo Chamber is a great hall on the public route at Windsor Castle displaying portraits of those soldiers, sovereigns and diplomats responsible for the overthrow of Napoleon and the re-establishment of the monarchies and states of Europe thereafter. The concept began in 1814 when George IV used the opportunity of the Treaty of London to commission Lawrence to paint distinguished visitors. The group of portraits grew during the next decade as Lawrence continued to obtain portrait sittings at the various congresses following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and, in some cases, by making special journeys. Most of the twenty eight portraits were delivered after his death on 7 January 1830. By this time work was already begun of the space of the Waterloo Chamber created by covering a courtyard at Windsor Castle with a huge sky-lit vault; the room was completed during the reign of William IV (1830-7). The first illustration of the interior is provided by Joseph Nash (1809-78) in 1844 (RCIN 919785) and shows the arrangement which survives to this day: full-length portraits of warriors hang high, over the two end balconies and around the walls; at ground level full-length portraits of monarchs alternate with half-lengths of diplomats and statesmen.