In his political sonnet England in 1819 the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) described King George III (1738-1820) as “an old, mad, blind, despised and dying king”. Working some 20 years prior the unknown maker of the patchwork Coverlet with King George III Reviewing the Troops 1803-05, held a very different, although no less political, view of George III.
The Coverlet with King George Reviewing the Troops 1803-05, is one of the most memorable and fascinating patchworks on display in ‘Quilts 1700-1945’. An unlined appliquéd and patchwork coverlet made from plain and printed cottons dating from 1790-1800 and measuring almost 3 metres square, the piece is named after the central panel that depicts an image copied from a print made after a painting by Royal Academy artist John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), showing King George III reviewing the volunteer troops in Hyde Park, London, in 1799. While the border comprises 40 appliquéd vignettes showing images of domestic and navel scenes that have been drawn from a variety of patriotic and satirical popular prints in circulation in Britain at the turn of the 19th century- this wide use of popular printed imagery, and the representation of a printing press in the centre top vignette has led to the belief that the maker of this coverlet was directly involved in the huge and lucrative printing industry that operated in Britain during the 18th-19th century.
The reign of King George III, (1760-1820), was a period in Britain marked by domestic and foreign instability, (the American War of Independence 1770s-80s, the French Revolution 1789, Act of Union 1801), as well as one that saw the establishment of the UK as a major industrial, political, military and cultural superpower. This period saw an explosion in the production and sale of reproductive prints taken from history paintings and satirical prints catering to the general public’s appetite for news, current events and political debates. This craze for patriotic prints reached its heyday in the 1790s when the excitement over France’s declaration of war on England in 1793, boosted production of sales, especially for Anti-Napoleonic propaganda.
Coverlet with King George III Reviewing the Troops 1803-15, which is both indicative of the middle class tastes of its maker and the wide-spread political participation and debate occurring in Georgian Britain, is made even more remarkable by the inclusion in two of the vignettes showing naval scenes of the head and shoulders of a young woman believed to be a self-portrait of the maker- literally stitching her-self into the pages of history.
Want to read more about the works? Published to coincide with our exhibition from London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum, Quilts 1700–1945 is a beautiful publication celebrating more than 200 years of British quilts and patchwork, drawn from the V&A’s rich textile collection. ‘Quilts 1700-1945’ is on display at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) until 22 September 2013.