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Robert Dighton, 1752–1814

Margaret Nicholson Attempting to Assassinate His Majesty, George III, at the Garden Entrance of St. James's Palace, 2nd August 1786

Watercolor, pen, black ink, graphite, and gouache on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper
Sheet: 12 7/8 x 10 1/8 inches (32.7 x 25.7 cm)

Inscribed in black ink, lower left: "576"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
assassination | garden | historical subject | monarchy | palace
Associated Places:
England | Europe | Greater London | London | United Kingdom
Associated People:
George III (1738–1820), king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and king of Hanover
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IIIF Manifest:

These drawings by Romney and Dighton [B1979.12.667 and B1986.29.373] represent two approaches to contemporary history: one looking to the generalizing and universalizing of Grand Manner history painting, the other arising from the world of caricature. From the 1770s the philanthropist John Howard campaigned for the reform of prison conditions first in England and Wales and later in Europe. He toured prisons throughout the Continent, finally dying in Russia in 1790 from a fever contracted during one of his prison visits. Howard had declined to be painted by Romney in 1785; but after Howard's death, Romney set to work on what he hoped would be a series of paintings celebrating Howard's heroic efforts in alleviating human misery. In the early 1790s Romney produced a series of powerful drawings of nightmarish prison scenes in which Howard's experiences are transmuted into universal images of anguish and despair. Although Romney was one of the most fashionable society portrait painters of eighteenth-century England, success in the area of art he most valued - history painting - eluded him. As with so many of his other ambitious plans for history paintings, his projected paintings of Howard visiting prisons never progressed beyond these drawings.

On August 2, 1786, a mentally disturbed woman named Margaret Nicholson tried to stab George III; the monarch, escaping unharmed, pardoned his assailant, who was confined to Bethlehem Hospital. Dighton's drawing is a piece of visual reportage, attempting to convey the actual appearance of the attempted assassination. For Dighton, the son of a printseller and himself a caricaturist and printseller, topicality and timeliness were of the essence. The print after the drawing was published just three days after the assault. Although there is nothing of caricature in his description of the attack on the king, neither is there any attempt to render the scene heroic or timeless.

Scott Wilcox

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 50, cat. no. 39, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA)

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Crown Pictorial - Art and the British Monarchy (Yale Center for British Art, 1990-12-05 - 1991-02-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Linda Colley, Crown Pictorial : Art and the British Monarchy : Exhibition Labels, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1990, p. 28, No. 65, N8219 K5 C761 1990 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Linda Colley, Crown Pictorial : Art and the British Monarchy, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1990, p. 32, no. 65, N8219 K5 C76 1990 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Dennis Rose, Life, times and recorded works of Robert Dighton (1752-1814), actor, artist and printseller and three of his artist sons, Element Books, Salisbury, 1981, pp. 23, 64, NJ18 .D589 R67 YCBA [ORBIS]

Sotheby's sale catalogue : Watercolours by Robert Dighton including military, naval, sporting, political, ecclesiastical, literary and legal caricatures : 23 February 1978, Sotheby's, London, 1978, pp. 38-9, lot 36, Auction Catalogues (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 50, cat. no. 39, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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