Virginia Museum of Fine Arts acquires painting commissioned by King George III

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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts acquires painting commissioned by King George III
Benjamin West (British American, 1738-1820) Portrait of Prince William and h­­­is Elder Sister, Princess Sophia, 1779, oil on canvas, fr: 74 ⅛ x 98 ⅛”; unfr: 61 ⅜ x 85 ¼”.

RICHMOND, VA.- An important work by American painter Benjamin West was recently installed in the McGlothlin American Galleries. The portrait was acquired during the June 18 meeting of the VMFA Board of Trustees and is among the most valuable acquisitions in VMFA history.

Benjamin West, also known as the “father of American painting,” was at one point the most prominent painter in the British Empire. He served as President of the Royal Academy, History Painter to the King, and Surveyor of the King’s Pictures until his death in 1820. While in London, he also mentored American artists Charles Wilson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, and John Trumball – each of whom is represented in VMFA’s American Galleries. This is one of six group portraits commissioned by King George III during the American Revolution. Intended as a gift for the king’s brother, HRH Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, it is the only one of the six outside the Royal Collection. Descended in the family of George III, whose daughter HRH Princess Mary wed the sitter, Prince William, the painting celebrates the king’s protection of his niece and nephew at a moment during their father’s ill-health. In acknowledgement of the king’s generosity, the children and father – symbolized by the robe and crown – signal their obedience to the king, symbolized by the lion. This patriarchal narrative of duty and protection served a dual purpose as wartime propaganda. As the king served to protect his subjects, so his subjects – the colonists – owed their obedience to the king.

The acquisition of Portrait of Prince William and h­­­is Elder Sister, Princess Sophia was made possible by the J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art. Since 1988, this permanent endowment has provided support for the acquisition of historic American paintings, sculpture, works on paper, and decorative arts, ca. 1700-1945, including those native to Virginia. It has been funded with outright gifts, 220 parcels of real estate in Manchester, and their former home and farm in Hanover County. Proceeds from the sales of the real estate have been added to the Cochrane endowment principal. The endowment is now nearly 30 years old and has underwritten 79 important American acquisitions.

Additional Acquisitions


• Dogon culture (Mali): Sirige Mask, mid-late 20th c., wood, paint, fiber, iron, leather, 145 ½" and Sirige Mask, 2014, wood, paint, fiber, iron, leather, 156 ½". Anonymous donor.

• Gene Davis (American, 1920-1985), Three Witches, 1965, acrylic on canvas, 3 panels, each 36 x 192" Gift of Mary Ann Nichols, Washington D.C.

• Neri di Bicci (Italian, 1419-1493), Madonna and Child enthroned between Saints Dominic, Zenobius, Francis and Miniato, ca. 1450-1452, tempera on panel, 43.3 x 68.7" The Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund.

• Collection of 26 silver gelatin prints by Hungarian and American photographers. Gifts of Dr. and Mrs. Charles McDowell:

• Andre Kertesz, A Hungarian Memory, 1980, portfolio of 15 silver gelatin prints

• Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976), two silver gelatin prints: Magnolia Blossom,Tower of Jewels, and Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather

• Emmet Gowin (American, b. 1941), Natural Drainage System, June 1972, silver gelatin print

• Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932), three silver gelatin prints: Running White Deer; Apple; and Cabbage

• Jerry N. Uelsmann (American, b. 1934), five silver gelatin prints: Strawberry Day, 1967; April is the Cruelest Month, 1967; Small Woods Where I Met Myself, 1967; Questioning Moment, 1971; and Equivalent, 1964

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