Kneller was born in Lubeck, studied with Rembrandt in Amsterdam and by 1676 was working in England as a fashionable portrait painter. He painted seven British monarchs (Charles II, James II, William III, Mary II, Anne, George I and George II), though his portraits of Charles II are not longer in the collection, and in 1715 was the first artist to be made a Baronet (the next was John Everett Millais in 1885). A set of portraits of naval heroes was given by George IV to the Royal Naval Hospital in Greenwich in 1824.
This painting was probably commissioned by William III in 1700 for the wall of the Presence Chamber at Hampton Court on which it still hangs. It celebrates the King’s return from the negotiations that led to the Peace of Ryswick in 1697. The King landed at Margate on 14 November and returned in triumph to London on 16 November that year. The painting clearly refers to William’s success as a peace-maker, as he rides along the shore over emblems of war, watched by Neptune and greeted by Ceres and Flora with the attributes of Peace and Plenty. In the sky Mercury, putti and a female figure carry palm branches, the King’s helmet and a scroll inscribed: PACATVMQVE REGIT PATRIIS VIRTVT [IBVS ORBEM] (Placator of the Kingdom and Father of Virtue in the World.)
Queen Anne seems to have disliked the portrait. Horace Walpole described it as a ‘tame and poor performance’, but said that the original sketch was ‘struck out with a spirit and fire equal to Rubens’. The figure of William III and the horse are wholly painted by Kneller the rest of the design is probably by him. Kneller’s sketch, probably painted in 1706, of the Triumph of the Duke of Marlborough(National Portrait Gallery, London) employ some of the elements of this painting, this time in a martial context.
Signed and dated: Godfrey Kneller. Eques / Faciebat: Ao 1701 (Sir Godfrey Kneller made this in the year 1701)
Probably commissioned by William III in 1700
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