Britain is very fortunate to have so many art galleries. Although if one lives in London I suppose one has the cream of the crop but dotted throughout the land there are some excellent art establishments. One of the richest collection of art works is owned by the monarch and is held in trust for her successors and the nation. There are more than 7000 paintings within the Royal Collection as well as thousands of watercolours, prints and drawings. The collection is not held in just one place, Buckingham Palace, but is spread around the royal residences, such as Windsor Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Balmoral Castle, Hampton Court and Sandringham House. The total collection is estimated to be worth around ten billion pounds. My Daily Art Display today features a painting from the Royal Collection which hangs in Buckingham Palace. It is entitled Queen Charlotte and her Two Eldest Sons by the Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay, which he completed around 1764.
Allan Ramsay was born in Edinburgh in 1713. He was the eldest son of Allan Ramsay who was a poet and writer. After completing his schooling in Scotland he moved to London when he was twenty years of age and studied art under the tutelage of Hans Hysing, the Swedish portrait painter and later was a student at the St Martin’s Lane Academy, which was the precursor to the present day Royal Academy. In 1736, aged twenty-three he travelled to Rome and Naples to further his art education and he remained for almost three years. On returning to Britain he went to Scotland and settled down in Edinburgh.
In 1739 he married his first wife, Anne Bayne, and the couple had three children but none survived childhood and his wife died during the birth of their third child in 1743. Allan Ramsay supplemented his income from his paintings by teaching art and one of his pupils was Margaret Lindsay the eldest daughter of the nobleman Sir Alexander Lindsay of Evelick. As a humble artist her parents frowned on their liaison outside of art tuition and knowing that, the couple eloped and were married in secret. Her parents never forgave her for marrying lower than her station. Allan Ramsey, in an attempt to ease their minds about how he would care for their daughter and that he had married their daughter for love and not for their money, wrote to them explaining that although he had to support his daughter from his first marriage along with his two sisters, he was well placed financially to look after their daughter. Her parents were unmoved by his words. The couple lived a happy life and went on to have two daughters and a son.
The devoted couple spent three years in Italy from 1754 to 1757, where they both spent time painting and copying old Masters and whilst there they would earn an income by painting portraits of the wealthy aristocratic travelers who were doing the Grand Tour of Europe. They returned to Britain and went to live in London and in 1761, Allan Ramsey was appointed Principal Painter in Ordinary to George III. The title of Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King or Queen of England was awarded to a number of artists, nearly all of whom were portraitists. It was in this role that he completed many paintings of the royal couple and their children. .
So before us we have Queen Charlotte and two of her children but who was Charlotte and where did she come from? Sophia Charlotte was born in 1744 and was the youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and his wife Princess Elizabeth Albertine of Saxe-Hildburghausen. When King George III came to the throne it was decided that he should seek to marry someone of royal descent who would be use to life at court but would also have to be somebody who would be popular with the people of Britain. Many of the ladies that George would have liked to have married were deemed, much to the monarch’s annoyance, unsuitable and inappropriate and he had to reluctantly agree to “look elsewhere” ! Eventually a royal match was made, when David Graeme, a British soldier, diplomat and courtier, who had visited many of the royal courts of Europe, reported back to the British that he had found an ideal marriage partner for George. She was Princess Sophia Charlotte.
In 1761, when she seventeen years old, she married George III of England and at that young age became the queen consort of the United Kingdom. With the marriage came stipulations which she had to agree to. Firstly, she must become an Anglican and secondly, she had to promise not to become involved in the politics of the country. George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte and it was here that fourteen of the fifteen children of theirs were born. Charlotte was an extremely intelligent woman. From her letters we can see that she was well read and loved the fine arts. The Queen was very musical and is known to have been taught music by Johann Christian Bach. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at aged eight, dedicated his Opus 3 piece to the Queen at her request. She had a love of plants and trees and helped to establish Kew Gardens. The Christmas tree was introduced to England by the Queen who had the first one in her house, in 1800. The royal couple were very much in love with one another but sometimes for the young girl, suddenly having to take on the responsibility of queen consort, was trying but she always took her duties seriously. In a letter to her younger brother, she wrote:
“…I find that the solitary and retiring life which I lead is not made for me. Having admitted this I assure you I shall not ignore my duty…”
My Daily Art Display today features one of Ramsay’s paintings of Queen Charlotte and her two eldest sons, George, who was Prince of Wales and was later to become George IV and Frederick, Duke of York. As we have seen in other paintings despite the two children being male they were dressed in, what today, we would term girl’s clothing. The elder son, George, stands with his bow in his hand and in the left side of the picture, we can see his drum. These accoutrements have been added by the artist to symbolise George’s future soldierly spirit. His mother Charlotte has her foot on a foot-stool and leans against a piano. On the piano we have a sewing box and a copy of John Locke’s book Some Thoughts concerning Education. At the time, this book, a treatise on education, was considered the most important philosophical work on education in England and it was translated into almost all of the major written European languages during the eighteenth century. The setting of this painting and the items depicted in it all add up to a compassionate relationship between a mother and her children and illustrate how she spent time with them whilst they were at play and how important family life was to them.
It is a lovely portrait of a mother and her children. It is full of compassion and the smiles on their faces have put across the impression of happiness and fulfillment.