King George III Reviewing the 10th Dragoons, Sir William Beechey, 1797-98.
After impressing Queen Charlotte with a portrait in 1793, Beechey became Her Majesty’s portrait painter and was thus introduced to many great sitters at Court. He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in the same year. Shortly thereafter, King George III invited Beechey to paint him at a review of his eldest son’s regiment — of which he had just recently been reluctantly given the colonelcy — the fashionable 10th Light Dragoons, which were stationed near Brighton at the time. This painting, Beechey’s largest, features the King on Adonis, Adjutant-General Sir William Fawcett on foot, and Generals Sir David Dundas and Philip Goldsworthy (the King’s chief equerry), observing a mock conflict between the 10th and 3rd Dragoon Guards (known as The Prince of Wales’s Dragoon Guards from 1765, though not under him).
Although it earned Beechey a knighthood and election into the Royal Academy in 1797 and was considered his best piece by contemporaries, the painting almost did not survive George III’s first review of it —- because apparently the prominent addition of the rather silly Prince of Wales in his loud uniform of the 10th (looking for all the world as if he were about to charge into the fray as he often later claimed to have done on many an occasion) was an unwelcome surprise to His Majesty.
The King was so angry when he saw what had been done, so the Beechey’s legend has it, that he ordered the canvas to be burned or thrown out of the window. Fortunately, the order was not carried out; and some time later, father and son being on better terms, the picture was hung at the Royal Academy. Nevertheless, when the King had a copy made to present to Henry Addington, he gave instructions that the figure of the Prince should be left out.
— Christopher Hibbert, George III, 1998.
The painting hung for a time at Hampton Court, then Kensington, then finally Windsor. Too large to be hastily removed from the State Dining Room, the fabulous piece was lost in the Windsor Fire of 1992, one of the very very few masterpieces of any type to be destroyed. Fortunately, many copies and mezzotints and whatnots had been made; this particular version of the painting is now the UK Department of Transport at Great Minster House, London, after being purchased from Christie’s in 1954.