Sitter in 1 portrait - Donor of 1 portrait
Artist associated with 2 portraits
Sitter in 1 portrait - Donor of 1 portrait
Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia
Artist: probably by François Gérard
Medium: oil on canvas
Measurements: height 2337 mm. (92 in.) width 1600 mm. (63 in.)
Acquisition: gift from Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia, 4 April 1816
Location: Examination Schools
Whole length, standing to left, head turned to face viewer; fair hair brushed forward over forehead, whiskers and slight moustache; in uniform: green coat with silver epaulettes and red and silver stand-up collar and cuffs; green breeches, knee-length boots with spurs; silver sash with tassel; blue ribbon and Star of the Order of the Garter; three medals attached to coat beneath top buttons, from left to right: the Silver Cross of St George of Russia, the Iron Cross of Prussia, the Order of Maria Theresa; his left hand, gloved and holding a glove, rests on upright gold sword, his right holds a plumed hat; to right a charger held by a helmeted soldier; two mounted officers; landscape; Potsdam with the palace of Sanssouci in the background to right and left.
Given to the University by the Emperor, in response to a request made after the visit of the Allied Sovereigns to Oxford in 1814. The Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal Prince Blücher were present with the Allies, and the University celebrated the occasion with a banquet in the Radcliffe Camera. Soon afterwards, it was
'Resolved, That the Chancellor be desired in the name of this Board humbly to request H.R.H. the Prince Regent to honour the University with the Gracious Present of his Portrait to be placed in the Picture Gallery in perpetual remembrance of the distinguished honour of H.R.H.'s visit.
Resolved also, That when the Presents intended for their Imperial Royal Majesties, the Emperor of Russia & King of Prussia, shall be transmitted to them from this University, a similar request be preferred in the name of this Board to each of those Sovereigns.' (Hebdomadal Board Minutes, 20 June 1814, Hebdomadal Register 1803-23, Oxford University Archives, WP gamma/24/3, p.349, extra folio)
The portrait was delivered in 1816 when 'A copy of a Letter of Thanks to the King of Prussia for the gracious Present of his Portrait, was laid before the Board, and approved' (Minutes of Hebdomadal Board meeting, 22 April 1816, ibid., p.399)
The portraits of both Emperors (for that of Alexander I of Russia, see OP18), were hung beside a portrait of George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence (OP19) in the Sheldonian Theatre, where all three monarchs were conferred with honorary Doctorates in Civil Law in the course of their visit. The Emperors' portraits by Gérard were conceived as part of a historical group, and intended to be considered together. The versions in Oxford are in similar, but not identical, ornate gold frames, surmounted by crowns, and now hang side by side in the South Writing School.
References to the Emperor's portrait in Joseph Farington's diary suggest that the version in Oxford was probably painted by Gérard. On 28 Oct 1815 Farington noted: 'Sir Thos. Lawrence I dined with. ... We had much conversation about France, and what was going on. - He said He found Gerard, the French History & Portrait Painter, in very high repute there. He had painted Portraits of the Duke of Wellington, the Emperor of Austria, The Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia; for each of which He was to have one thousand guineas. - His Process in Painting is by touches of Colour, not by strokes of the Pencil. (The Diary of Joseph Farington, 16 vols, 1978-1998, ed. K. Garlick, A. Macintyre and K. Cave, XIV, ed. K. Cave, p.4724)
On 23 March 1818, Farington recorded that 'A Portrait of the Emperor of Russia and of the King of Prussia painted at Paris by Gerard have been presented to the University of [blank] by their magistrates' (ibid., XVI, p.5179). On 24 Aug 1821, he noted that he 'had some conversation with Mr. Balmano who had come to look at the pictures. At Oxford, He sd., he had seen Sir Thos. Portrait of the present King, and placed near it Portraits of the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia by Gerard, the French Painter' (ibid., p.5721).
The miniature painter, George Perfect Harding, who saw both Emperors portraits hanging in the Sheldonian, noted 'Gerard' next to each name his 'List of Portraits, Pictures in Various Mansions of the United Kingdom’ (bound mss, 1804 - [1858?], 4 vols, 3, p.145, National Portrait Gallery Archive, London)
After the portrait had been moved into the Bodleian Picture Gallery Charles Coppock, Janitor of the Bodleian Library, noted in his copy of the catalogue 'Frederick William III King of Prussia, died 1840 By Gerrard this came from the Sheldonian'. (C. Coppock, ms annotation in J. Norris, A Catalogue of the Pictures, Models, Busts &c. in the Bodleian Gallery and Library, Oxford,  facing p.28, Schola Logicae, Bodleian Library)
In her 'List of corrections and additions' to her catalogue Mrs Lane Poole noted for the entry for this portrait 'Add copy after a portrait at Apsley House by W. Herbig' (Lane Poole, III, p.349). In the portrait by Herbig, 1818, however, the background is different from that in this portrait. In Herbig's copy the Emperor 'stands in front of a balustrade, beyond which left, are two equestrian statues on lofty pedestals, and trees. His charger is held by a dragoon, right, and beyond are two mounted grooms. Beyond the latter is a building with flag. A cavalry regiment is passing the balustrade.' (E.K.G. Wellesley, A descriptive & historical catalogue of the collection of pictures and sculpture at Apsley House, London (1901), pp.306-307, no.3) This variant background, also seen in the copy by E.P. Gebauer (House of Hohenzollern, Germany), has been identified as the Place de la Concorde, Paris. The background in the version belonging to the University includes specific historical references: 'a view of Potsdam taken from the Brauhausberg, on the left side the Havel river and Sanssouci, on the right side the destroyed Garnisonkirche and the Ruinenberg in Sanssouci. The distance between the Schloß and the Ruinenberg is smaller in reality.' (G. Bartoschek, Curator, Stiftung Preussische Schloesser und Gaerten Berlin-Brandenburg, personal communication, 2006) Built at Potsdam, seat of the Prussian court, as a summer palace for Frederick the Great, Sanssouci remained a favourite place of residence for the Prussian imperial family.
A replica in the Musée National du Château de Versailles which includes the same background as portrait in the Examination Schools is identified in the catalogue as a replica of the painting executed in 1815 and destroyed in Berlin in 1945 (C. Constans, no.2122). This replica (together with those of 82 other whole length portraits by Gérard) remained in the artist's atelier and was acquired from his widow in 1837. This suggests that the portrait previously in Berlin (and possibly Potsdam) was probably the prime version done for the Emperor himself, and that the portrait in the Examination Schools was an early studio copy, finished by Gérard himself.
An account of the visit of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent and Their Imperial and Royal Majesties The Emperor of Russia and The King of Prussia to the University of Oxford in June MDCCCXIV... (1815); G.P. Harding, 'List of Portraits, Pictures in Various Mansions of the United Kingdom’, 1804 - [1858?], bound mss, 4 vols, 3, p.145 (National Portrait Gallery Archive, London); [G.F.] Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 3 vols (1854), 2, p.277; R. Lane Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in the possession of the University, Colleges, City, and County of Oxford, 3 vols (1912, 1925), I, pp.146-147, no.355; E.K.G. Wellesley, A descriptive & historical catalogue of the collection of pictures and sculpture at Apsley House, London (1901), pp.306-307, no.3; C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of paintings in the Wellington Museum (1982), pp.70-71, no.68; C. Constans, Musée National du Château de Versailles, Les Peintures, 2 vols (Paris, 1995), 1, p.374, no.2122; http://www.preussen.de/de/geschichte/galerie_der_koenige.html (accessed 2 June 2006); Ulrich Feldhahn, art consultant to HRH the Prince of Prussia (personal communication, 2006)
Annette Peach, ‘OP22 Friedrich Wilhelm III, King of Prussia (1770-1840)’, Portraits in Oxford, online edn, 2006,
[http://www.odl.ox.ac.uk/oxfordportraits/portrait.php?w=22, accessed 25th May 2013]