“Portrait of Princess Charlotte of Wales” by George Dawe: the most interesting detail of the painting

George Dawe. Portrait of Princess Charlotte
George Dawe. Portrait of Princess Charlotte of Wales. 1817. National Portrait Gallery, London. Janeaustensworld.com.

Why is a Russian dress worn by an English princess?

Charlotte, Princess of Wales, has never been to Russia. And her husband was not a Russian prince.

But she is wearing a Russian sundress!

When I saw this portrait, I really wanted to figure out how the princess got such an outfit.

So, Charlotte was the only legitimate heir to the throne. Her grandfather George III had 15 (!) children.

But almost all of them led a bachelor life and had illegitimate children.

And only Charlotte, the daughter of the eldest son of the King, Prince George (the future King George IV) was born in an official marriage, correct from the point of view of the laws of the monarchy.

So Charlotte was second in line to the throne!

She had no sisters and brothers. Because her parents couldn’t stand each other. And they lived apart.

Charlotte’s mother, Caroline of Brunswick, was allowed to see her daughter once a week. But she could not, in any case, interfere in the upbringing of the heiress.

Of course, the father sought to marry Charlotte in order to continue the dynasty.

But she was extremely stubborn. And flatly refused to marry a suitable party. For William, Prince of Orange, future King of the Netherlands.

She even ran away from the palace just to disobey her father’s will! As a result, she dragged out the time so much that the Prince of Orange married … the Russian princess Anna, the sixth daughter of Paul I.

But still, a suitable groom was found. It was Prince Leopold (future King of Belgium). He suited the father with his perfect manners and career (he rose to the rank of general). And the princess was in love with him.

Young people happily married for 1.5 years. Until tragedy struck.

During childbirth, everything went wrong.

Charlotte was in labor pains for three days. Her doctor would not allow instruments to be used to get the baby out. As a result, she gave birth herself, but the boy was dead.

A day later, the princess began to bleed and she died. After some time, the doctor shot himself, unable to bear the responsibility.

It was a tragedy for everyone. The whole country was in mourning. After all, ordinary people loved her very much.

Even the failed groom, the Prince of Orange, sobbed. What can we say about her husband. He was truly happy with her.

Heartbroken, he remained a widower for many years. And he married only when he already became the king of Belgium.

Charlotte of Wales never became Queen. Victoria was born 18 months after her death. And it is she who will one day become the queen for many years to come.

Now back to the dress.

Charlotte’s husband was not a Russian prince. But he fought in the Napoleonic wars in the Russian army. And in general, after the contribution of the Russians to these events, everything a-la-rus was fashionable.

In addition, the Russian sundress was similar in cut to the Empire dress, which was then in vogue. This is when the dress narrows under the bust, and then falls to the floor in a straight cut.

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So, Charlotte wished to sew a Russian sundress for herself. This portrait was painted 5-6 months before her death. She’s already pregnant here.

By the way, this portrait was painted by George Dawe! Yes, the one who then went to Russia for several years. And he painted there as a court painter many portraits of Russian aristocrats.

George Doe. Portrait of M. Naryshkina with her sons.
George Dawe. Portrait of M. Naryshkina with her sons. 1823. Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.

It’s amazing that this sundress survived! The loss of the princess was so irreplaceable for many that family members saved it. And here is the most interesting.

Dress of Charlotte Augusta of Wales. First half of the twentieth century. Royal Collection, London.
Dress of Charlotte Augusta of Wales. First half of the twentieth century. Royal Collection, London.

Note that the color of the actual dress is different! That is, the artist changed it when creating a portrait.

After all, he depicted Charlotte with his head turned sharply to the side. Apparently, he drew inspiration from ancient Greek sculptors. Such a turn of the neck made the image even more noble. And the dark color of the dress echoes him better.

That’s it! So, when you see clothes on any portrait, keep in mind: it’s not a fact that in reality the color was exactly that;)


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