Never before presented at auction, this remarkable portrait by Reynolds depicts William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, the second surviving son of King George II and Queen Caroline, younger brother of Frederick, Prince of Wales and uncle of the future King George III. On 23 April 1740, soon after his nineteenth birthday, he was made Colonel of the Coldstream Guards; he fought with the King at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743; in 1746, having just turned 25, he defeated Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the 'Young Pretender', at Culloden, and subsequently helped ruthlessly suppress the Jacobite movement in Scotland. His subsequent campaigns on the Continent (at Laeffelt in 1747 and in Germany in 1757) met with defeat, and he resigned his commands, concentrating on improvements to Windsor Great Park and pursuing his great love of horse racing; his stud, selected with great care and involvement, was to become the largest and best in the country.
Reynolds's books record several sittings with 'The Duke' in 1758, the result of which were several portraits which seem to have been painted chiefly for his friends, including officers who had served with or under him, and family. These include a full-length in Garter robes in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire, at Chatsworth; an untraced repetition painted for the Cumberland's sister, the Princess of Hesse; and one for Princess Amelia (probably that in The Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace). The present picture is a departure, replacing the formality and grandeur of Garter robes with a more intimate portrayal of the Duke in the place he loved most, and which increasingly became a retreat from London life, Windsor Great Park. The unusual format, through which Reynolds successfully gives a three-quarter-length composition much of the impact of a full-length, is echoed in a portrait of the Duke's fellow-soldier General William Keppel dated to 1762-1764 (Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua)--Keppel seems to have been amongst those who had ordered a portrait of the Duke (see Mannings, op. cit., p. 293, under no. 1059). A depiction of the Duke in this distinctive, almost unique format, or in a landscape, is not repeated in any version, and these decisions suggest that this portrait may have been painted for the Duke himself.
The Duke's attachment to Windsor Great Park was passionate. Amongst his many honours, 'there is no doubting that Cumberland derived the deepest and most lasting pleasure from George II's gift of the post of Ranger and Keeper of Windsor Great Park, together with a not very commodious lodge in considerable disrepair. It was a mark of the King's approval, and as such worth more to a loyal son than all the gold boxes in the kingdom. It was also a mark of personal affection, for the King well knew how Cumberland loved Windsor. [It] was to Windsor that that the Duke would always return to recuperate when fate and the world turned against him' (Whitworth, op. cit., p. 99). The Duke took his responsibilities as Keeper very seriously, immediately undertaking projects such as new plantings, drives and bridges, landscaping, features such as grottoes and waterfalls and general maintenance, employing the artist-brothers Thomas and Paul Sandby and the architect John Vardy. The works gave employment to hundreds of demobilised soldiers, while Cumberland himself was a regular presence, 'consulting with engineers and surveyors, directing operations and encouraging the men' (p. 142). Described by a contemporary as 'a great planter', the Duke sought 'the most useful and beautiful' trees and flowers for the Park (pp. 140-1), while its menagerie of exotic animals was to inspire George Stubbs to paint Cheetah and Stag with two Indian Attendants (Manchester, City Art Gallery). In 1751, the King made Cumberland Lord Warder and Ranger of Windsor Forest, in addition to his existing Rangership, and April 1753 saw the completion of the tower shown in the background here, a triangular belvedere atop Shrubs Hill, built by Henry Flitcroft. Illustrated by Thomas Sandby in his set of views of the Park, the belvedere was clearly a source of great pride for the Duke; it had magnificent views in all directions and was intended as a quiet refuge, with a library and a salon decorated with a Chelsea china chandelier, at the expense of £700. John Wesley was to describe it as 'the most remarkable' of the 'improvements of that active and useful man, the late Duke of C ... the triangular tower, surrounded by shrubberies and woods ... commands a beautiful prospect three ways--one of the rooms is a study. I was agreeably surprised to find many of the books not only religious but admirably well chosen. Perhaps the great man spent many hours there with only Him that seeth in secret...' (quoted by Whitworth, op. cit., p. 222). Subsequently enlarged and expanded as Fort Belvedere, the tower still stands to the southern end of the Park. The combination of the Windsor setting, the glimpse of the recently completed tower and the emphasis on the Duke's role as Ranger makes this the most penetrating and personal, and arguably the most important, of all portrayals of the Duke.
Camille Groult, the heir of a family of food producers based in Vitry-sur-Seine, assembled a group of British paintings which has been described as without equal in the history of French collecting (see O. Meslay, A. Sérullaz and B. Jobert, eds., D'Outre-Manche: L'Art britannique dans les collection publiques françaises, p. 21). Groult began to collect circa 1860, initially concentrating on French paintings, drawings and pastels of the eighteenth century, but by circa 1890 had increasingly begun to prioritise the acquisition of superlative examples of British art of the same period. His passion for the subject was such that he proposed the foundation of a museum of English art at the château de Bagatelle, which had been acquired from the heirs of Sir Richard Wallace, together with the surrounding parkland, by the city of Paris in 1905. Although this project remained unrealised, Groult's efforts to promote what many saw as a neglected area of art history bear a striking resemblance to those of Paul Mellon, arguably the greatest subsequent private collector of British art, half-a-century later. Groult and his descendants would become important benefactors of the Louvre, and a number of its holdings of British art, including the only Turner in a French museum and Gainsborough's Presumed self-portrait with Mrs. Gainsborough, come from the Groult collection. Groult may have acquired the picture from Charles Sedelmeyer, the Austrian dealer-collector active in Paris from 1866, who shared a taste for British painting and served as a conduit for sales from British collections (for example the Duke of Marlborough's Atalanta and Meleager by Rubens, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).