The BBC Culture Show Special The Lost Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which aired Saturday 22nd February, featured the discovery of the long-lost portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, which has long been considered one of the greatest mysteries of British Royal art.
Prince Charles, more commonly known as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ or the ‘Young Pretender’, was the grandson of the deposed Stuart King James II of England, and the nephew of the future Queens Mary II and Anne. It was the Prince who instigated the Jacobite Uprising of 1745; a movement to restore King James II and his heirs to the throne. Had this movement been successful, Charles would have ascended the throne after his grandfather and father, and ruled as King Charles III. However, the Jacobites were defeated by the Redcoats in the Battle of Culloden and Charles fled to France, where he spent the rest of his life in exile.
Until now, there was thought to be no surviving portrait of the Prince painted in his lifetime in Britain. However, art historian Bendor Grosvenor was able to confirm it was in fact a portrait of Charles after the painting was taken out of hiding after being concealed from the public eye for more than 250 years in the collection of the Earls of Wemyss at Gosford House outside Edinburgh, Scotland.
Painted in oil on canvas by Allan Ramsay, the portrait dates back to 1745, the year of the ill-fated Jacobite Uprising. It was painted in the the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British Monarch in Scotland.
Bendor Grosvenor’s discovery of the portrait came after his shocking revelation a few years ago, in which he revealed that the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s iconic portrait of Charles was in fact that of his brother, Henry. Mr Grosvenor was led to the portrait after he found a letter summoning Ramsay to paint a portrait of Charles. This finding was followed by another, that of a black and while photograph of a painting of Charles in the National Portrait Gallery in London. When checked later, records at Gosford House showed that the portrait had been identified as a Ramsay, and an attribution was later confirmed by Dr. Duncan Thomas, the former director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and an expert on the works of Ramsay.
Mr. Grosvenor had the following to say about the discovery: “Bonnie Prince Charlie is one of my heroes, and I always felt bad about debunking what used to be his most famous portrait. So I’m delighted to have found the best possible replacement – a portrait painted from life on the eve of his invasion of England.”