Attributed to George Dawe, 1781-1829
Portrait of Leopold George Frederick Duke of Saxe Coburg, Leopold I of Belgium 1790-1865
Leopold I of Belgium
oil on canvas
40 x 30in. (102 x 76 cm.)


This portrait shows Leopold I wearing the order of the Garter which was bestowed on him in 1816 the year he married Princess Charlotte of Wales.This portrait shows Leopold bearing striking similarities in looks to his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who became the husband to Quee Victoria.

Leopold I 1790 – 1865 was a German prince who became the first King of the Belgians following Belgian independence in 1830. He reigned between July 1831 and December 1865.

Born into the ruling family of the small German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Leopold took a commission in the Imperial Russian Army and fought against Napoleon after French troops overran Saxe-Coburg during the Napoleonic Wars. After Napoleon's defeat, Leopold moved to the United Kingdom where he married Princess Charlotte of Wales, the only child of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), thus situating himself as close as possible to the future prince consort of the United Kingdom. Charlotte died in 1817, but Leopold continued to enjoy considerable status in Britain. After the Greek War of Independence (1821–32), LeopoId was offered the position of King of Greece but turned it down, believing it to be too precarious. Instead, Leopold accepted the kingship of the newly established Kingdom of Belgium in 1831. The Belgian government offered the position to Leopold because of his diplomatic connections with royal houses across Europe. In addition, because he was seen as a British-backed candidate, he was not affiliated to other powers, such as France, which were believed to have territorial ambitions in Belgium which might threaten the European balance of power created by the 1815 Congress of Vienna.

Leopold was crowned in Belgium on 21 July 1831, an event commemorated annually as Belgian National Day. His reign was marked by attempts by the Dutch to recapture Belgium and, later, by internal political division between liberals and Catholics. As a Protestant, Leopold was considered liberal and encouraged economic modernisation, playing an important role in encouraging the creation of Belgium's first railway in 1835 and subsequent industrialisation. As a result of the ambiguities in the Belgian Constitution, Leopold was able to slightly expand the monarch's powers during his reign. He also played an important role in stopping the spread of the Revolutions of 1848 into Belgium. He died in 1865 and was succeeded by his son, Leopold II.

Leopold was born in Coburg in the tiny German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in modern-day Bavaria on 16 December 1790. He was the youngest son of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Countess Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf. In 1826, Saxe-Coburg acquired the city of Gotha from the neighboring Duchy of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg and gave up Saalfeld to Saxe-Meiningen, becoming Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. ln 1795, at just five years old, Leopold was given an honorary commission of the rank of colonel in the Izmaylovsky Regiment, part of the Imperial Guard, in the Imperial Russian Army.Seven years later, he received a promotion to the rank of Major General.

When French troops occupied the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars, Leopold went to Paris where he became part of the Imperial Court of Napoleon.[1] Napoleon offered him the position of adjutant, but Leopold refused. Instead, he went to Russia to take up a military career in the Imperial Russian cavalry, which was at war with France at the time.He campaigned against Napoleon and distinguished himself at the Battle of Kulm at the head of his cuirassier division. In 1815, by the time of the final defeat of Napoleon and, aged 25, reached the rank of lieutenant general.

Leopold received British citizenship in 1815. On 2 May 1816, Leopold married Princess Charlotte of Wales at Carlton House in London. Charlotte was the only legitimate child of the Prince Regent George (later King George IV) and therefore second in line to the British throne. The same year he received an honorary commission to the rank of Field Marshal and Knight of the Order of the Garter. On 5 November 1817, Princess Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son. She herself died the next day following complications. Had Charlotte survived, she would have become queen of the United Kingdom on the death of her father and Leopold presumably would have assumed the role of prince consort, later taken by his nephew Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Despite Charlotte's death, the Prince Regent granted Prince Leopold the British style of Royal Highness by Order in Council on 6 April 1818.

From 1828 to 1829, Leopold had several-months long affair with the actress Caroline Bauer, who bore a striking resemblance to Charlotte. Caroline was a cousin of his advisor Christian Friedrich Freiherr von Stockmar. She came to England with her mother and took up residence at Longwood House, a few miles from Claremont House. But, by mid-1829, the liaison was over, and the actress and her mother returned to Berlin. Many years later, in memoirs published after her death, she declared that she and Leopold had engaged into a morganatic marriage and that he had bestowed upon her the title of Countess Montgomery. He would have broken this marriage when the possibility arose that he could become King of Greece.The son of Freiherr von Stockmar denied that these events ever happened, and indeed no records have been found of a civil or religious marriage with the actress.

Following the Greek rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, Leopold was offered the throne of Greece. Leopold declined the offer, fearing that Greece was too politically unstable to remain a viable monarchy. The position was instead accepted by Otto of Wittelsbach in May 1832. At the end of August 1830, rebels in the Southern provinces (modern-day Belgium) of the United Netherlands rose up against Dutch rule. The rising, which began in Brussels, pushed the Dutch army back, and the rebels defended themselves against a Dutch attack. International powers meeting in London agreed to support the independence of Belgium, even though the Dutch refused to recognize the new state.

In November 1830, a National Congress was established in Belgium to create a constitution for the new state. Fears of "mob rule" associated with republicanism after the French Revolution of 1789, as well as the example of the recent, liberal July Revolution in France, led the Congress to decide that Belgium would be a popular, constitutional monarchy.The choice of candidates for the position was one of the most controversial issues faced by the revolutionaries. The Congress refused to consider any candidate from the Dutch ruling house of Orange-Nassau. Some Orangists had hoped to offer the position to King William I or his son, William, Prince of Orange, which would bring Belgium into personal union with the Netherlands like Luxembourg.The Great Powers also worried that a candidate from another state could risk destabilizing the international balance of power and lobbied for a neutral candidate.

Eventually the Congress was able to draw up a shortlist. The three viable possibilities were felt to be Eugène de Beauharnais, a French nobleman and stepson of Napoleon; Auguste of Leuchtenberg, son of Eugene; and Louis, Duke of Nemours who was the son of the French King Louis-Philippe.All the candidates were French and the choice between them was principally between choosing the Bonapartism of Beauharnais or Leuchtenberg and supporting the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Louis-Philippe realized that the choice of either of the Bonapartists could be first stage of a coup against him, but that his son would also be unacceptable to other European powers suspicious of French intentions.Nemours refused the offer. With no definitive choice in sight, Catholics and Liberals united to elect Erasme Louis Surlet de Chokier, a minor Belgian nobleman, as regent to buy more time for a definitive decision in February 1831. Leopold of Saxe-Coburg had been proposed at an early stage, but had been dropped because of French opposition. The problems caused by the French candidates and the increased international pressure for a solution led to his reconsideration. On 22 April, he was finally approached by a Belgian delegation at Marlborough House to officially offer him the throne. Leopold, however, was reluctant to accept.

On 17 July 1831, Leopold travelled from Calais to Belgium, entering the country at De Panne. Travelling to Brussels, he was greeted with patriotic enthusiasm along his route. The accession ceremony took place on 21 July on the Place Royale in Brussels. A stand had been erected on the steps of the church of Saint Jacques-sur-Coudenberg, surrounded by the names of revolutionaries fallen during the fighting in 1830. After a ceremony of resignation by the regent, Leopold, dressed in the uniform of a Belgian lieutenant-general, swore loyalty to the constitution and became king.

The enthronement is generally used to mark the end of the revolution and the start of the Kingdom of Belgium and is celebrated each year as the Belgian national holiday. Less than two weeks after Leopold's accession, on 2 August, the Netherlands invaded Belgium, starting the Ten Days' Campaign. The small Belgian army was overwhelmed by the Dutch assault and was pushed back. Faced with a military crisis, Leopold appealed to the French for support. The French promised support, and the arrival of their Armée du Nord in Belgium forced the Dutch to accept a diplomatic mediation and retreat back to the pre-war border. Skirmishes continued for eight years, but in 1839, the two countries signed the Treaty of London, establishing Belgium's independence.

Leopold was generally unsatisfied with the amount of power allocated to the monarch in the Constitution, and sought to extend it wherever the Constitution was ambiguous or unclear while generally avoiding involvement in routine politics.Leopold I's reign was also marked by an economic crisis which lasted until the late 1850s. In the aftermath of the revolution, the Dutch had closed the Scheldt to Belgian shipping, meaning that the port of Antwerp was effectively useless. The Netherlands and the Dutch colonies in particular, which had been profitable markets for Belgian manufacturers before 1830, were totally closed to Belgian goods. The period between 1845 and 1849 was particularly hard in Flanders, where harvests failed and a third of the population became dependent on poor relief, and have been described as the "worst years of Flemish history". The economic situation in Flanders also increased the internal migration to Brussels and the industrial areas of Wallonia, which continued throughout the period.

Politics in Belgium under Leopold I were polarized between liberal and Catholic political factions, though before 1847 they collaborated in "Unionist" governments. The liberals were opposed to the Church's influence in politics and society, while supporting free trade, personal liberties and secularization.The Catholics wanted religious teachings to be a fundamental basis for the state and society and opposed all attempts by the liberals to attack the Church's official privileges. Initially, these factions existed only as informal groups with which prominent politicians were generally identified. The liberals held power through much of Leopold I's reign. An official Liberal Party was formed in 1846, although a formal Catholic Party was only established in 1869. Leopold, who was himself a Protestant, tended to favor liberals and shared their desire for reform, even though he was not partisan. On his own initiative, in 1842, Leopold proposed a law which would have stopped women and children from working in some industries, but the bill was defeated. Leopold was an early supporter of railways, and Belgium's first stretch of this railway, between northern Brussels and Mechelen, was completed in 1835. When completed, it was one of the first passenger railways in continental Europe.

The success of economic reforms partially mitigated the effects of the economic downturn and meant that Belgium was not as badly affected as its neighbors by the Revolutions of 1848. Nevertheless, in early 1848, a large number of radical publications appeared. The most serious threat of the 1848 revolutions in Belgium was posed by Belgian émigré groups. Shortly after the revolution in France, Belgian migrant workers living in Paris were encouraged to return to Belgium to overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic. Around 6,000 armed émigrés of the "Belgian Legion" attempted to cross the Belgian frontier. The first group, travelling by train, was stopped and quickly disarmed at Quiévrain on 26 March 1848. The second group crossed the border on 29 March and headed for Brussels. They were confronted by Belgian troops at the hamlet of Risquons-Tout and, during fighting, seven émigrés were killed and most of the rest were captured.To defuse tension, Leopold theatrically offered his resignation if this was the wish of the majority of his people.

The defeat at Risquons-Tout effectively ended the revolutionary threat to Belgium, as the situation in Belgium began to recover that summer after a good harvest, and fresh elections returned a strong Liberal majority. Because of his family connections and position at the head of a neutral and unthreatening power, Leopold was able to act as an important intermediary in European politics during his reign. As a result of this, he earned the nickname the "Nestor of Europe", after the wise mediator in Homer's Iliad. Leopold played a particularly important role in moderating relations between the hostile Great Powers. In the later part of his reign, his role in managing relations between Great Britain and the French Empire of Napoleon III was particularly important.

Leopold was particularly known as a political marriage broker. In 1840, Leopold arranged the marriage of his niece, Queen Victoria, to his nephew, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Even before she succeeded to the throne, Leopold had been advising Victoria by letter, and continued to influence her after her accession.

In foreign policy, Leopold's principal object was the maintenance of Belgian neutrality. Despite pressure from the Great Powers, especially over the Crimean War (1853–56), Belgium remained neutral throughout the reigns of Leopold I and II.

In 1832, Leopold married his second wife, Louise-Marie of Orléans. Louise-Marie was the daughter of Louis Philippe I, the King of the French, enstated in 1830. Leopold and Louise-Marie had four children. The eldest, Louis Philippe, died in 1834. When their second son Leopold was born in 1835, he became crown prince (and later King Leopold II). Their third son was Philippe, the father of Belgium's third king, Albert I. Their youngest child was Charlotte, who would later marry Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.

On 11 October 1850, Queen Louise-Marie died of tuberculosis, aged 38. Leopold also had two sons, George and Arthur, by a mistress, Arcadie Meyer (née Claret). George was born in 1849, and Arthur was born in 1852. At Leopold's request, in 1862 the two sons were created Freiherr von Eppinghoven by his nephew, Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha; in 1863 Arcadie was also created Baronin von Eppinghoven.

Leopold died in Laeken near Brussels on 10 December 1865, aged 74. He is buried in the Royal Vault at the Church of Notre-Dame de Laeken, next to Louise-Marie. He was succeeded by his son, Leopold II, aged 30, who ruled until 1909.

A number of Belgian naval vessels have been named in his honour, including Leopold I, a frigate acquired by Belgium in 2007. His monogram features on the flag of the Flemish town of Leopoldsburg. His likeness has also appeared on postage stamps and commemorative coins issued since his death.

Artist biography

Dawe, George (1781–1829), history and portrait painter, was born on 6 February 1781 in Brewer Street, Golden Square, London, the son of Philip Dawe (1745?–1809?), a mezzotint engraver, and his wife, Jane (c.1752–1832). He was brought up in a creative family: his two younger brothers Henry Edward Dawe (1790–1848) and James Philip Dawe (1794–1879), and their sister, Mary Margaret Dawe (1785–1871), were all professional artists. Dawe, who was named after his godfather, the genre painter George Morland, started his career as a mezzotint engraver. He practised as an engraver for at least twenty-four years—his first plates after John Graham's originals were published in 1795 and one of his latest engravings, after his portrait of the duke of Wellington, was made in London in April 1818. In 1794 at the age of thirteen he entered the Royal Academy Schools, and in 1803 received the gold medal for Achilles, Frantic for the Loss of Patroclus, Rejecting the Consolation of Thetis (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington), which was regarded by contemporaries as ‘the best ever offered to the Academy on a similar occasion’ (Arnold's Library of the Fine Arts, 1831, 1, 10). In 1804 he sent to the Royal Academy Naomi and her Daughters (Tate collection); five years later he was elected an associate and in 1814 he was elected Royal Academician, submitting Demoniac (RA, London) as his diploma work. Dawe had also had strong professional links with the British Institution for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom since its foundation in 1806. In 1807, for example, he was depicted by A. E. Chalon in a group portrait of artists in one of the rooms of the British Institution (British Museum), and exhibited there regularly until 1813. Dawe's reputation as a history and subject painter began to increase significantly. His Scene from Cymbeline (exhibited with the title ‘Imogen Found at the Cave of Belarius’ (1808; Tate collection; a version in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington) was awarded a special premium at the British Institution and was praised by S. T. Coleridge in a letter to Sir George Beaumont of 7 December 1811 (Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. F. L. Griggs, 1959, 3.844–5). Both this painting and Andromache Imploring Ulysses to Spare the Life of her Son (1810; sketches in a priv. coll., London, and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington) were bought by the collector Thomas Hope. Dawe's A Negro Overpowering a Buffalo also obtained a premium at the British Institution in 1811. The following year his large picture Genevieve (now known as ‘Lady and the Harper’), signed and dated 1812 (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington), based on (in the view of Charles James Fox) ‘the most pleasing poem in the English language’ by Coleridge entitled ‘Love’, was exhibited at the Royal Academy (Coburn, ed., Coleridge, 3, n. 4142). Paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811 and 1813 enhanced his reputation. These included: Philip Howorth as the Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpent (known through an engraving by Henry Dawe, 1812; impression, V&A), inspired by a work on the same subject by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Hercules Strangling the Serpent, painted for Catherine the Great of Russia and delivered to St Petersburg in 1789, where it remains, and Mother Rescuing her Child from an Eagle's Nest, based on a Scottish legendary story. A further noteworthy subject picture by Dawe is a huge allegorical panorama or illuminated transparency for Vauxhall (1814), a critical account of which was included by Charles Lamb in his recollections.

One of Dawe's earliest portraits is of Sir Samuel Romilly (c.1806), and as a portrait painter Dawe soon acquired a respectable clientele. Following the appearance of his wonderful portrait of Mrs White (1809; sold by Christies in 1994 at a high price), which was compared by contemporaries with the best works of Sir Thomas Lawrence and Jacques-Louis David, he received commissions for several family portraits from Thomas Hope, and attained wide recognition. His full-length portrait of the actress Eliza O'Neill as Juliet was a great public success. In the summer of 1815 Dawe had briefly employed John Constable, with whom he had been acquainted since 1806, to paint in the background, and this theatrical scene, full of romantic atmosphere achieved by the effect of glittering lamplight, stirred public opinion when exhibited both in London (1816) and later in St Petersburg (1827), where it was taken by Dawe with other good examples of his professional skill. With the execution of portraits of members of the royal family—Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, later king of the Belgians, who married in 1816—which became quite popular throughout Europe in engravings, Dawe achieved the status of court painter. Under the patronage of Edward, duke of Kent, Dawe travelled on the continent as part of his retinue visiting Paris, Cambrai, Brussels, and Aix-la-Chapelle, where a congress of representatives of the member states of the grand alliance against France took place. In the autumn of 1818 while working at Aix on a portrait of Prince Volkonsky, Dawe was noticed by Alexander I and invited to go to St Petersburg to paint, on very profitable terms, more than 300 portraits of Russian generals who had distinguished themselves in the war against the emperor Napoleon I. The circumstances of such a flattering invitation were described in a first-hand account in the memoirs of a military historian, Aleksandr Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, published in Russia in 1897.

Dawe travelled to the Russian capital via Germany, where in Weimar he had portrayed Goethe (Goethe Museum, Weimar) and discussed with him his essay on the theory of colour then in preparation for publication. Staying in Russia for about ten years (from spring 1819 to May 1828, and again briefly in spring 1829) Dawe founded a ‘portrait factory’, confirming his reputation as an international painter who was prolific and rapid in production. For five years, until the completion of most of the Military Gallery (opened in the Winter Palace in December 1826 and now part of the Hermitage collection), Dawe's studio, including his brother Henry and brother-in-law Thomas Wright (who married Mary Margaret Dawe in St Petersburg in 1825), issued many engravings after the originals which were painted by Dawe himself with the assistance of two Russian apprentices, A. Polyakov and V.-A. Golicke. The engravings were protected by copyright, granted to Dawe by the emperor. About 400 military and not less than 100 high-society portraits associated with the name of Dawe while he was working out of England have been traced through different sources. Many can be identified in J. Bennet and T. Wright's engraving of 1826 of The Visit of Emperor Alexander I to the Studio of Dawe. The artist had an unparalleled success in Russia: in the winter of 1826 he held a solo exhibition in Moscow; Nicholas I chose him as court painter for the coronation ceremony of the same year; in 1820 Dawe was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, where in 1827 he was allowed to exhibit 150 portraits. The next year he was appointed the first portrait painter at court and in 1829 accompanied Grand Duke Constantine to Warsaw. Among his admirers was the poet Aleksandr Pushkin, who wrote a poem entitled ‘To Dawe Esq.’ (The Complete Works of Alexander Pushkin, 1999–; in English). Dawe's work was widely discussed by the Russian press and public; a reviewer praised ‘the effectiveness of his pictorial approach’ and capacity ‘to seize a likeness’ ([N. Gretch], Syn Otechestva, 34–40, 1820, 299–300, 302) and criticized for a superficial attitude to the sitter, rough manner, and readiness to paint ‘fashionable little portraits for big money’ (N. Gogol, Portret 1835; N. Gogol, ‘The Portrait’, in Selected Works, 1984, 536). In practice Dawe varied the compositional formulas of military and society portraits employed by contemporary Russian artists such as V. Tropinin, O. Kiprensky, and K. Bryullov. Under the influence of his painting Mother Rescuing her Child from an Eagle's Nest, which Dawe brought with him to St Petersburg, A. Orlovsky (in 1828) and M. Markov (in 1833) painted versions of the same subject.

Among the best portraits painted by Dawe in Russia are those of Barclay de Tolly and Admiral Shishkov (both in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg); the young Countess Stroganov (Alupka Palace, Alupka, Crimea), and the Mezhakov family (Vologda Art Gallery, Vologda). Known for his remarkable industry and diverse interests, Dawe studied anatomy, psychology, and languages. He had a fine collection of old masters; studied the theory of colours and the technique of famous artists, and wrote a lively book about George Morland (The Life of George Morland, with Remarks on his Works, 1807). While living in Russia, he travelled throughout the country and tried to use the Russian language.

On his first return to England, Dawe brought with him several Russian portraits and in November 1828 showed them at Windsor Castle. From November 1828 to February 1829, during his journey back to Russia, Dawe visited, and was kindly received at, the courts of Germany and France. In August 1829 the artist returned permanently to London, and died, unmarried, a few months later on 15 October at his home, 22 Fortess Terrace, Kentish Town, London. On 27 October he was buried with honours in St Paul's Cathedral. The works of Dawe can be found in many public and private collections in different countries of Europe, as well as in Russia, the United States of America, and New Zealand (where his sister, Caroline Dawe, emigrated with her family following her marriage to Michael Prendergast).

G. Andreeva  DNB