Wednesday 15 April 2020

The Archduke and Duchess of Beerstein: an Imagi-Nations wargamer portrait

Some of you who see me on wargaming Forums might be familiar with me often peddling my painting wares (sometimes as Sir Joshua Gregg RA, noted 18th century socialite and court painter to the rich and famous!).  I hope it doesn't bore you but it does pay off and, over the years, I've been very lucky to be able to visit, virtually and sometimes physically, the wargames tables of some noble 18th Century wargaming aristocrats (you know who you are!!) and put their imaginations, with and without a hyphen, onto canvas or paper.

The latest commission is a wonderful privilege to do a portrait of notable blogger/wargamer, retired US Navy Captain, William Walker of Florida and his good lady, Lynda.  "Captain Bill" is famed for his fabulous digital insignias, cartouches, coats of arms etc, in particular for imaginary wargaming flags as often featured in his blog The Reich Duchy of Beerstein

Bill has been a patron of mine for Hussarettes for a few years and this time we started discussing a battle scene but he wanted himself in it and some of his favourite model soldier regiments. It soon became evident he did not have the wall space for the big scale atmospheric mayhem I was conjuring up so we cut back our ideas. The concept of the portrait was the top priority so Bill and Lynda, as an 18th landed couple, were to feature prominently and with the addition of Reich Duke Wilhelm's bodyguard the Pilsner Leib Horse Grenadiers. I came up with idea of setting them in the grounds of "Beerstein Palace". This was the final result in an oil painting and below I tell the story of how it was executed.

Their Excellencies the Reich Duke and Duchess von Beerstein review the Pilsner Leib Horse Grenadiers in the grounds of Beerstein Palace,  Spring 1757. Oil on canvas 16 inches x 12 inches by Sir Joshua Gregg RA (Copyright © Chris Gregg)
Bill supplied me with a lot of photos of the relevant 28mm figures from his collection of which here are just two, and the colours of the Leib Grenadiers
Command stand and troopers of the Pilsner Leib Horse Grenadier
The Reich Duke and Duchess, and ADC Major Debauchery.
Bill decided he did not need the dogs in the painting
The wonderful design of the Horse Grenadier regimental colour,
duplicated to print as a wargame flag ©William Walker
18th Century aristocrats often liked to show off their grounds and/or their mansion in a portrait painting and I found this lovely building one day in my weekly email from the UK Historic Houses organisation. It is actually Kingston Bagpuize House near Abingdon, Oxfordshire, only about 30 miles or so from where I live. The Reich Duke von Beerstein was receptive to the idea that it could pass for a south German Ducal palace.
I was original inspired for the overall concept by Sir Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of "Mr and Mrs Andrews". Painted when Gainsborough was young in about 1747- 48. It's a super rendition of period clothing and proud, rather haughty, landowners, but significantly Sir Thomas was a pioneer of  English landscape painting, a subject close to my heart, so I wanted to put an interesting background in my aristocratic portrait. 
Mr and Mrs Andrews by Sir Thomas Gainsborough

Apart from that dear Sir Joshua Reynolds had done many, many fantastic portraits of upper class nobs, their ladies, and military gentlemen. Followers of this blog might appreciate a few of the latter:

Captain Robert Orme 1756
John Manners, Marquis of Granby, 1766-70
Sir Gerard Napier, uniform looks 1750s to me.

In addition to being influenced by such works of art as these I perused quite a few 18th century portraits of fancy civilian types for lace jackets and of course needed some period ladies riding side saddle.  Mr Google usually comes up with the goods when I ask him and I found the lovely riding coat on an actress, and Bill and I agreed a softer green and blue shading than on his model. I think it works very well.

Major Debauchery and the standard bearer are both based on two of many pics of yours truly dressed up for a Hussar photo shoot in 2018. Don't laugh, I suffer for my art!

Bill supplied me with a photo of himself as a naval captain and Lynda in their younger days looking very distinguished in an oil painting done way back then.  I got the four foreground horses from my art photo archives and chose a small grey for the Duchess and an impressive black for the Reich Duke.  I then photoshopped the whole thing together on a background of the adapted Kingston Bagpuize House and grounds. I duplicated some of the lines of Bill's models to produce two ranks of Horse Grenadiers awaiting inspection. I then got his agreement that this was along the lines he wanted. The following photographic sequence gives a snapshot of some of the key stages in developing the painting on the canvas:

At left is my photoshopped mockup which gives me proportions and a good start point. That is transferred to the squared up canvas in pencil and then outlined in thin black acrylic to secure it.
This shows what we call the grisaille stage.
Main areas of light and dark are rendered in a thin wash of Paynes Grey acrylic
to help focus on compositional elements
The grisaille provides a confident enough base to roughly fill in with acrylic
in colour. That allowed me to satisfy myself that the chosen colours would
 work and try them on Bill for his approval, which he gave.

When to do the background in oil can be problematic - first or last?
I tend to play safe by sketching the main colours thinly in oil with only a small
 amount of medium
Time to move to the foreground figures and I started with the faces of the
 stars of the show but never aimed for a finished look yet.
It's just that they feel more real as one moves onto the clothing and horses
Tightening up the details of Duke and Duchess and their horses. I'm using now
a rich mixture of water-based oil and special "quick drying" medium.
 It dries properly overnight as opposed to taking about 3 days without it.
This bit was challenging - I had the digital file of the flat flag design but had to
interpret that as flapping in the wind from its pole. It was a multi-stage process of brown,
yellows and white then left to dry before completing glazes of darker and lighter shading,
taking cast shadows into account on the gold detail
Pretty much finished the foreground figures now but not tackled the cast shadows or background yet
A more competent artist than me might be able to render the background building
in one go with just the right amount of detail and soft colouring, but not me.
 I tend to paint the background layers in full bodied oil with detail and then
fade them down, when dry, with successive layers of glazing containing
 tiny amounts of White or Naples Yellow
The building glazed I moved on to the Horse Grenadiers.
On the 16 x 12 inch canvas the officer and trumpeter are roughly
 the same size as 28mm model soldiers, but two dimensional of course! 
The Grenadiers take shape now......
........but only with sufficient detail as one might perceive at 40-50 metres away. A couple of horses are restless and even the best trained can't stand still for too long.....when is he going to inspect us?
The finished result minus signature (©Copyright Chris Gregg) awaiting final approval, which it got. By this stage I had tried for  facial likenesses of our heroes from the painting Bill had supplied and as I painted Lynda the eyes got bigger than they should.  But the more I looked the more I thought, hey she looks young and sexy - lucky chap that Reich Duke.  And, although I offered to repaint it, luckily for me Bill agreed. He also agreed to the accurate rendition of his moustache, though many might think an 18th Century aristocrat should either be clean shaven or have an impressive moustache like Major Debauchery's. Anyway, I think it looks suitably charismatic.
Well I hope you have enjoyed this insight into the painting process, and the work itself will soon be wending its way to Florida, assuming the postal services both sides of the Atlantic feel safe to do so. If this gives any of my readers inspiration for a painting you will find my prices are much more reasonable than you would expect, just get in touch and we can discuss -  Chris Gregg


  1. Nicely done! You do the Duke and Duchess proud.

    Der Alte Fritz

    1. Thanks Jim - got any more space for art in your lovely games room?

  2. This was really interesting! Thank you. I love to learn how artists go about their work. . . painting, sculpting, photographic, or what have you. The thought and actual production processes are fascinating.

    Best Regards,


    1. Glad you found it interesting Stokes, and thanks for publishing some of my work in the past

  3. Absolutely fabulous work, well laid out and good to see your process, I have always wanted to do something similar.

    My fictional imagination Skanderburg has suffered for several years with neglect since my move to France.
    On the plus side I now live in a 18th century Maison Particular, once owned by Baron de Hercé, in France, so lots of inspiration at least.


    1. Thanks Matt for your appreciation and if you ever want any oil or acrylic paintings for L'Hotel de Hercé I'm happy to paint and export :-)

  4. Fascinating Chris, fantastic work!

  5. That was just a fascinating read Chris - and its also a lovely piece of work - good to see the other side of your talents

  6. Well done Chris a lovely rendition with lots of lace.

  7. Stryker, Kerry and Robbie, thanks so much for commenting so favourably, it means a lot to me.

  8. A beautiful, meticulous and delicate work. I send you a cordial greeting from the distant Argentine Republic and the wish that you and your loved ones are very well. Carlos

    1. Thank you Prince Lupus and particular thanks to you Carlos for visiting and for your good wishes. Hope things are not too bad in the Argentine Republic.

  9. You truly are quite a talented man Mr Gregg. These are truly wonderful works of art and such a clever idea as well. Well done.

    1. Thanks very much Carlo. I always admire the artistic talent on show on your wargames table too

  10. G'Day Chris, apologies for my slow response in commenting on your latest posting. In a nutshell, fantastic work mate! Love your process and the checks with your customer as the work beings to take shape until the final product sees the light of day. I hope you and yours are staying safe and enjoying the beginning of summer. Regards abound Greg

    1. Hi Greg Yes we are safe here but sadly beginning to get a bit bored of only having a few local square miles of the glorious Cotswolds to roam in! After six weeks there is not much round here we have not seen. Thanks for your appreciation and I hope you feel Sir Joshua is keeping up the standards set by his commission of that portrait of one General von Zieten.