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The Art of Monarchy

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

Joseph Lee (1780-1859)

George III (1738-1820) Signed and dated

RCIN 421492

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Joseph Lee's enamel depicts George III as an old man, bearded and with grey hair, wearing a blue ermine-lined cloak; organ pipes can be seen in the background on the left. The profile pose disconnects him from the viewer and compounds the sense of isolation that we feel on behalf of this sightless Lear-like figure.

The counter-enamel is signed, dated and inscribed in black paint: 'His Majesty George the 3rd / from the Original sketch by John Jackson Esq. R.A./ Joseph Lee Pinxit / London / 1827'.  Although a painting of this subject by John Jackson must have existed, the source for Lee's enamel appears to have been the mezzotint by Samuel William Reynolds which was modified in direct consultation with the Prince Regent.

Lee’s enamel is remarkable within his oeuvre for its unsurpassed depth of colour and richness of finish, qualities made all the more admirable and technically challenging by the large scale of the enamel.  There are no individual payments to Lee recorded in the Georgian accounts in the Royal Archives at this period, although the possibility remains that this enamel was acquired through Rundell, Bridge & Rundell by the George IV when Prince Regent.

Joseph Lee (1780-1859) was self-taught as an enamellist at a late age, but made a successful career as an enamel painter, exhibiting intermittently at the RA and the SBA between 1809 and 1853 from addresses in London. He styled himself as ‘enamel painter’ to Princess Charlotte of Wales and later worked as ‘enamel painter’ to Augustus, Duke of Sussex. It may have been the gift of a small enamel of the Duke of Sussex to Queen Victoria that first made her familiar with Lee’s work. She employed his services for producing enamel copies based on oil paintings between 1844 and 1850. He retired from miniature painting in his final years and died, aged seventy-nine, in Gravesend, Kent, on 26 December 1859.