The intriguing title of Martin Heard’s talk, ‘George IV, connoisseur or con man?’, was clearly calculated to intrigue members and there was indeed a good turnout for this, the first talk of the new season.
Martin proved a lively and humorous speaker, as he explained the reasons why such very differing views of George IV
have been taken. He is seen as a patron of the Arts and architecture; indeed many of the paintings in the Royal Collection are there as a result of his interest. Equally, there is no doubt that during his lifetime, he was regarded as a wastrel and a libertine. He was also seen as a hypocrite, bringing in laws on morality, while setting a poor example himself. Satirists saw him as very prime material, which they were able to take full advantage of at the time, as censorship only applied to the written word, but pictorial creations were not controlled.
So was he someone who conned money from the state merely pretending to be interested in the arts while he used much of the money to indulge himself?
George III, his father, was known for his culture and his son was well educated and his conversation said to be of worth. In 1783, when he was 21 and became Prince of Wales, he gained private income of his own, but his expenses soon exceeded his income. He fell under the influence of Richard Cosway, a well known miniature painter of the day. He began to collect both French art, which was in plentiful supply after aristocrats fled the French Revolution, but also contemporary art including Gainsborough and Stubbs. He later commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits for the Waterloo Gallery at Windsor Palace. He also collected French furniture and Sevres porcelain.
He lavished money on remodelling his houses, Carlton House and Brighton Royal Pavilion, often changing his mind about certain details resulting in further great expense, determined to give both an appearance of luxury and opulence. He always entertained on a grand scale, which may explain why in cartoons the press portray him as greedy and prodigal. He made a state visit to Scotland in 1822, which entailed huge expense, as he insisted on all his extensive entourage wearing kilts. This may have been the result of reading Sir Walter Scott’s novels. The Lowland areas he visited clearly found this dress bizarre, as it was very much the dress of the Highlanders.
Marriage to Caroline of Brunswick proved very advantageous to George, as his existing huge debts were paid off by the country and as a married man, his expenses allowance was increased. His wife did not endear herself to the nation, as she lacked social graces and the marriage in effect only lasted a year. She was not invited to George’s lavish
coronation. George tried to divorce her, but she later obligingly died. Their only child Princess Charlotte was later to die in childbirth.
George’s plans for London were also on a grand scale, commissiong Nash to create a grand straight boulevard from Carlton House to Regent’s Park, but the plans had to be adjusted to bend round properties owned by some of his opponents who would not sell. Although much to the disapproval of many, he created a very grand frontage at Carlton House, which on demolition of Carlton House was used to adorn the front of the National Gallery. The National Gallery was created by George and he encouraged many artists to contribute to it. Nash was also instructed to construct Buckingham Palace. Plans to create a boulevard from Trafalgar Square to the British Museum did not come to fruition and it was interesting that Nash was sacked when George died.
If he was a con man, there is no doubt, he was one of taste, who left a cultural inheritance for future generations.
The next meeting will be a Group Activity Day, open to all, on Monday October 26th, at St Peter’s Community Hall, Bexhill Old Town.
The meeting is from 10.15 - 12.00 . Entry is free and members of the public are urged to join us to find out more about the U3A and see the wide variety of interest groups available to members. Refreshments are available at a modest price.
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