thu 20/06/2024

George IV: Art & Spectacle, The Queen's Gallery review - all is aglitter | reviews, news & interviews

George IV: Art & Spectacle, The Queen's Gallery review - all is aglitter

George IV: Art & Spectacle, The Queen's Gallery review - all is aglitter

A sumptuous display from the Royal Collection heralds a top class reopening

Rembrandt van Rijn, 'The Shipbuilder and his Wife: Jan Rijcksen and his Wife, Griet Jans', 1633 Credit: Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

Prince of Wales, Prince Regent, and finally King: George IV, (1762-1830) was an unpopular and greedy ruler, but his compulsive collecting and passion for redecorating have made a huge contribution to the arts of the nation, and form a significant part of the Royal Collection.

The elegant Queen’s Gallery has now re-opened with a sumptuous display of his over-the-top royal carry-on, spanning the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.

He was wildly and continually in debt, his coronation in 1821 costing many millions. After a decade of living at Carlton House, his debts were more than £31 million (estimated at today’s prices); he also lavished money on the Brighton Pavilion, the remodelling of Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace, and Windsor Castle. And then there were the mistresses, the illegal marriage to the twice widowed, older actress Maria Fitzherbert (to whom he remained devoted) and the disastrous legal marriage to Caroline of Brunswick.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, George IV (1762-1830), 1821  Credit: Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019 All is aglitter with gold, not to mention diamonds. The Diamond Diadem created for George IV’s coronation befits the impression he wished to give: designed by Rundell Bridge & Rundell and sporting a mere 1,333 diamonds, it is still in use 200 years later.  His obese figure was a gift to the cartoonists, caricaturists and satirists of the day, as demonstrated in a pithy section dedicated to Rowlandson and Gillray to Cruikshank.

George attempted to emulate the splendid objets d’art that had adorned the defunct French court. There are sculptures of mythical figures, clocks, candelabra, porcelain, silver tureens, tankards, gold trays, from French, German and English makers. But it is the depth and breadth of the paintings that stand out. Here is Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of George in his coronation robes (pictured right); not a handsome figure but certainly robust enough to carry the weight of robes, medals, jewellery and assorted decorative paraphernalia.

The Dutch and Flemish paintings that George collected remain among the masterpieces of northern art: from the Rubens’ Landscape with St George and the Dragon, probably 1630, to his full-breasted Portrait of a Woman, c.1625-1630, richly coloured and full of joy in the physical. And then there are the Rembrandts: psychologically telling, utterly memorable, and deeply affecting. There is the evocative portrait of Agatha Bas, 1641, her hand touching the edge of the painting as though she were about to step out of the picture frame and join us; and the double portrait of The Shipbuilder and his Wife, 1633 (main picture), an image of attachment. These are pauses of telling contemplation amidst the mesmerising royal extravagances that characterised so much of George’s compulsive habits of acquisition. 


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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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