Known to many as the “father of American painting,” Benjamin West worked extensively for English royalty during his illustrious career. Recently one of six group portraits commissioned from West by King George III — not to mention the only one outside the Royal Collection — found a new permanent home.
On view now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, is Benjamin West’s “Portrait of Prince William and His Elder Sister, Princess Sophia,” which was acquired during the June 18 meeting of the VMFA Board of Trustees. The painting is among the most valuable acquisitions in VMFA history.
The museum writes, “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.”
To learn more, visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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