Complaints by members of the Royal Family about being attacked by the media are nothing new. Today, it might be invasive social media, but in the 18th and 19th centuries it was the cartoonists in the popular papers who ruled the roost. Nothing was hidden from view, especially relationships, mistresses, illegitimate children and extravagant spending on art, parties, entertainment or the like.
King George IV who died in 1830, has a mixed reputation. One of his major achievements was the founding of King’s College London in 1829, now one of the world’s great universities. With a variety of mistresses, several illegitimate children and huge debts, he was also a collector and patron of the arts and of architecture, enhancing the Royal art collection with works from Rubens, Rembrandt and the Scottish artist David Wilkie, along with commissioning major remodelling of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and the creation of the unique Pavilion in Brighton, a favourite seaside retreat.
The exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery tells the story of George IV, his art collecting, his library and his architectural achievements, with insights into the man and his interests which go back to the Roman empire and to the best days of the French monarchy, with links to other exhibitions in London such as that on Troy at the British Museum. It is good to see references to Scotland including a portrait study of George VI wearing the Order of the Thistle on his visit to Scotland after his coronation in paintings by the Scottish artist Sir David Wilkie in the form of a portrait study of George VI wearing the Order of the Thistle during his visit to Scotland after his coronation in 1821, the first reigning monarch to do so since Charles II, and a portrait of Sir Walter Scott by Sir Thomas Lawrence from 1820-6, reminding us of the friendship between the two men and that it was Scott whose arrangements in no small part contributed to the success of that visit.