Queen Charlotte, ca. 1776
Oil on canvas
50 1/4 x 40 in. (127.6 x 101.6 cm)
Benjamin West was the first American-born artist to achieve an international reputation. He was a founding member of London’s Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, and around the same time was named historical painter to George III. He painted numerous portraits of the king and queen, often in pairs intended to hang together. This portrait of Queen Charlotte is believed to have been paired with the portrait of King George now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Unlike a state portrait, this image of Charlotte places her in a domestic setting with some needlework in her hands and a basket of handwork on the adjacent table. She is still queenly, her bearing regal, but also approachable as a woman.
Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was born in 1744 and came to London in 1761. Although she met her husband-to-be just six hours before their wedding, their marriage proved to be a very successful. It is said that "they did not fall in love and marry; they married and fell in love." Queen Charlotte was a devoted wife and mother, a gracious and cultivated woman whose simple tastes were a complement to those of her husband. Her one extravagance was a collection of exotic animals, which included kangaroos brought from Australia. Queen Charlotte's life was not without its difficulties, however, and George's bouts of insanity were a severe test of her character. Between 1788 and 1804, the king was often too ill to look after himself. Charlotte took over the running of the royal household, preventing an early rise to the throne for their son George, Prince of Wales, who was unpopular with his parents and the country at large. When the king became permanently insane in 1811, and Prince George became Prince Regent, ruling in his father's place, Charlotte suffered a depression that made her life a misery until her death in 1818.
Mary and Santo Alessi, New York
Literature: H. von Erffa and A. Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven, Connecticut, 1986, pp. 468-469
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