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Matthew Cotes Wyatt
1777–1862

The design for the ceiling of the King’s closet at Windsor Castle

Full screen

Medium
Ink and wash with white heightening
Size
16 × 10 ¾ inches · 405 × 276 mm
Notes
Drawn 1807
Collections
  • The Fine Art Society, 1972;
  • Reginald Humphris, acquired from the above; 
  • By descent to 2015.

This important design was completed by Matthew Cotes Wyatt in preparation for the painted ceiling he was commissioned to execute in the King’s Closet at Windsor Castle for George III in 1807. This study is the only surviving drawing related to the commission.  Wyatt’s finished scheme was removed by William IV in the early 1830s, it is therefore also the most complete evidence of the ceiling as it was executed.

Matthew Cotes Wyatt was the son of James Wyatt, the architect, he studied at the Royal Academy Schools from 1800. It was under his father’s influence that he received significant commissions for decorative painting, the first of which was the ceiling of the Concert Room in Hanover Square, London, in 1803. In 1805 he began work restoring and extending Antonio Verrio's ceilings in the remodelled state rooms at Windsor Castle for George III. He became a favourite of the king and queen but aroused the jealousy of other painters. The painter and diarist Joseph Farington recorded the surprise of the landscape painter and Academician Francis Bourgeois at the commission: 

‘Now said Bourgeois Wyatt’s conduct since has been this. In the alterations which have been made in Windsor Castle, ceilings were to be painted. The History of St. George occupied one of them. For this purpose He and His son Matthew Wyatt, a young inexperienced artist appointed, to the exclusion of Artists of known ability.’[1]

Wyatt himself visited Farington in 1812 when he was a candidate to be elected an Associate Academician at the Royal Academy. He stated: 

‘that for Seven years past He had been employed in painting ceilings at Windsor Castle having been appointed by the King’s command. The King, He sd. at the same [time] discriminated between Him and Rigaud. To the latter He assigned the painting a part of [the] ceiling of which the other part was painted by Verrio. “To match that suitably will be proper to Rigaud who has much experience in manners of painting; you on the contrary not having such experience will be best employed in inventing & painting  in such manner as you are best prepared for.” This being [so] M. Wyatt began and said He had completed the whole of the ceilings except one of an apartment which is over that in which the King now lives.’[2]

The present drawing was made by Wyatt in 1807 for the ceiling of the King’s Closet. The King's Closet lies at the western end of the King's State Apartment, rebuilt by Hugh May for Charles II in 1675-8 as part of the overall modernisation of Windsor. The ceiling of the King's Closet was originally painted with scenes of Jupiter and Leda. When George III embarked on a programme of modernisation of the State Apartments in the early nineteenth century under the direction of James Wyatt, the Closet was enlarged by the addition of an ante-room to the south and Wyatt was commissioned to paint a ceiling depicting St George and the Dragon.

The design demonstrates Wyatt’s sympathy with the surviving Baroque interiors at Windsor. The central allegorical scene of St George defeating the dragon, being crowned with laurels by trumpeting Fame, is presented as a quadro riportato panel being supported by a boarder of ignudi. The ignudi, which recall Annibale Carracci’s figures from the ceiling of the Galleria Farnese, also support medallions depicting ancillary episodes from the life of St George. The brown wash drawing demonstrates Wyatt’s debt to contemporary designers such as John Flaxman and Thomas Stothard. Wyatt was paid £787 10s for his work in the King’s Closet and a surviving view of the room from W.H. Pye’s The History of the Royal Residences shows how richly coloured and gilded the scheme was Wyatt’s frieze of ignudi were against a gilt background.[3] The brightly coloured decoration was short lived as it was removed by William IV in the 1830s.

This design is therefore an important surviving study made in preparation for George IIIs remodeling of the State Apartments in Windsor Castle. It is also a rare drawing by the young Matthew Cotes Wyatt demonstrating his proficiency and abilities as a designer of grand decorative schemes.

References

  1. Ed. Kathryn Cave, The Diary of Joseph Farington, New Haven and London, 1982, X, p.3695. 
  2. Kathryn Cave, The Diary of Joseph Farington, New Haven and London, 1983, p.4247. 
  3. See Edward Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England 1537-1837, London, 1970, II, p295.