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Scenes of Fashionable Life

Johan Joseph Zoffany (Frankfurt 1733-London 1810)

George, Prince of Wales, and Frederick, later Duke of York, at Buckingham House 1765

Oil on canvas | 111.9 x 127.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 404709

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This scene must have taken place shortly before March 1765, when Prince George was ‘breeched’ (first dressed in breeches). Zoffany depicts the Queen’s Second Drawing Room, also known as the ‘Warm Room’, at Buckingham House, which is also recorded in James Stephanoff’s watercolour of 1818 (Royal Collection). This room lay on the first floor of the garden façade (the windows can be seen reflected in the mirror in both views), in the space now occupied by the northern third of the Picture Gallery. This is an intimate glimpse of the Queen’s brand new home. Buckingham House was acquired in 1762 and the Queen’s apartments were redecorated in the next couple of years, under the direction of the architect, William Chambers (1723-96). The crimson damask wall hangings were supplied by Robert Carr in1762-3. The seat furniture here is probably by Catherine Naish; the carpet may be one of a series of bordered Brussels carpets laid by Vile and Cobb; the fire screen was probably supplied by William Vile in 1763. The fireplace, designed by Chambers is the only surviving element of the decoration, though now to be found in the King’s Bedroom in Windsor. The simple classical door frame seen reflected in the mirror was designed by George III himself.

The paintings shown here have probably been ‘cherry-picked’ from those which actually hung in the space (though at this date there is no accurate record of the hang against which to check it). Two Van Dycks painted for Charles I and still in the collection, the Villiers Children and the Three Eldest Children of Charles I, were presumably hanging approximately where Zoffany puts them. The arrangement of the three other paintings is probably an invention; the Carlo Maratti Vision of St Stansilaus Kostka (Royal Collection), seen here in the Stephanoff watercolour of 1818, could have hung here in 1764; it has been replaced by Zoffany with a Carlo Maratti Christ Child (Royal Collection), probably acquired by Queen Anne. This figure is placed so as to seem to bless the Royal couple below (presented in portraits apparently of Zoffany’s own invention).

Sumptuous and highly fashionable though this interior is, it could at first glance belong to any rich man of the era. The trick of the image lies in the way in which we are invited to discover royal blood, through the presence of a portrait of the children of Charles I and through the way in which the living Princes play with the same dogs and adopt postures similar to their remote ancestors.

Text adapted from The Conversation Piece: Scenes of fashionable life, London, 2009