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Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

Frederick William III, King of Prussia (1770-1840) 1814-18

Oil on canvas | 270.6 x 180.1 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 404944

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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 commissioned by George IV at a cost of 500 guineas and was painted when the sitter was attending the Congresses of London and Aix-la-Chapelle in 1814 and 1818, 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 acknowledges the sitter’s role as commander of the Prussian army at the Battle of Jena (1806) and the importance of Prussians in the closing stages of the Napoleonic Wars (1813-5) and at the Congresses that followed. The King is shown wearing military uniform, holding his plumed hat, against the smoke of a raging battle; he wears the badge of the Red Eagle of Prussia and the Iron Cross of Prussia, with the star of the Black Eagle of Prussia over the Garter 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.