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Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, later Leopold I, King of the Belgians (1790-1865) 1821-30

Oil on canvas | 271.0 x 183.9 x 4.1 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405144

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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 in 1821 and presumably commissioned by the sitter, who presented it to Prince Albert on the occasion of his birthday, 26 August 1841. It shows Leopold in Garter robes, holding the plumed hat of the Order and a Field Marshal's baton, wearing the collars of the Garter and the Bath. Presumably because Leopold had fought with distinction in the Napoleonic Wars, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided to add the portrait to the Waterloo Chamber, where it was already in situ by the 15 September 1841. 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.