After the violent death of Louis XVI (in 1793) followed by that of his young son Louis XVII (in 1795), the crown of France, albeit in exile, passed to Louis XVI's younger brother, the Comte de Provence. Assuming the title of Louis XVIII and eventually settling in England, it was from here that he returned home to claim his throne after Napoleon's defeats in 1813 had resulted in the occupation of Paris by the allies in March 1814. The Prince Regent placed his father's yacht Royal Sovereign at Louis's disposal and the new French king and his retinue sailed from Spithead, escorted by a flotilla of British and Russian warships, on 24th April 1814.
The original of this work was one of the four paintings submitted to the Royal Academy when Nicholas Pocock exhibited there for the last time in 1815. On that occasion it was described as 'Portrait of His Majesty's Yacht Royal Sovereign, having on board His Majesty Louis 18th, escorted by a squadron of British and Russian ships of war, under the command of His Royal Highness the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV), the squadron saluting, on the afternoon of the 24th April, 1814'. This Academy picture is now held in the National Collection at Greenwich (see Nicholas Pocock, 1740-1821, by David Cordingly, 1986, pp. 96-99).
The principal British royal yacht from her completion in 1817 until the first paddle yacht Victoria & Albert of 1843 relegated her to harbour duties, Royal George was built at Deptford and measured 330 tons burden. The ship's whaler in the foreground is flying the Hanoverian royal standard in use from 1816-37 but, as the painting is undated, it is difficult to identify the royal personage with certainty. It is probable however that the top-hatted civilian in the stern of the whaler is George IV, as King, sometime during his post-Coronation tour of Great Britain in 1821.
Also see lot 452 in this catalogue.