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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Samuel William Reynolds (1773-1835)

[George III] c. 1820

RCIN 604480

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During much of the last decade of his life, George III lived – increasingly deranged and eventually totally blind – in a suite of rooms on the north side of Windsor Castle. In 1811 a Regency was declared in the person of his eldest son, who succeeded his father on the throne as George IV, on 29 January 1820.

This mezzotint portrait of George III facing left, with his head resting on his hand, has become one of the defining images of the elderly King. It was made by the prolific printmaker Samuel William Reynolds. Another impression of the print in the British Museum is signed on the verso by Dominic Colnaghi (the print-seller and publisher) who states, ‘This portrait was taken by Mr Reynolds the Engraver from a slight view he had of the King. I showed the impression to the Prince Regent [later George IV]; he was much struck with the good likeness, and said it might be published, but with his own hand marked out at the back of the head where then was too much hair (vide the pencil marks)’. The print was published in its revised state on 24 February 1820, just over a month after George III’s death, with a dedication to George IV. It was on the strength of this, and his obvious willingness to toe the royal line, that Reynolds was made Portrait Engraver to George IV.

The Royal Collection includes a number of early proofs of the image, recording the stages Reynolds went through to achieve his final image. This very early state shows the distinctive nature of mezzotint, in which the plate is worked all over to print a uniform black, before the printmaker works with a burnishing tool to smooth the areas that are to print white. Here, the central image has been finished in its first state, but most of the margin remains blackened.

Read more about George III's portraits in Royal Collection curator Kate Heard's blog post for BBC Radio 4.