Exhibition | The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714–1760

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on February 25, 2014

Press release (29 January 2014) from The Royal Collection:

The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714–1760
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 11 April — 12 October 2014

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In 1714 Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover in Germany, acceded to the British throne as George I, the country’s first constitutional monarch. Despite many stronger genealogical claims to the crown than his, the 1701 Act of Settlement had declared that the choice of sovereign was the gift of Parliament alone and that only a Protestant could sit on the British throne. With this unprecedented decision, the Georgian era began, ushering in an unbroken line of succession to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Marking the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession, The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714–1760 explores the reigns of George 1 (r.1714–27) and his son George II (r.1727–60), shedding light on the role of this new dynasty in the transformation of political, intellectual and cultural life. Through over 300 works from the Royal Collection, it tells the story of Britain’s emergence as the world’s most liberal, commercial and cosmopolitan society, embracing freedom of expression and the unfettered exchange of ideas.

The Hanoverians’ right to rule was fiercely disputed by the Jacobites, supporters of the Stuart claim to the throne. The ‘Old Pretender’, Prince James Francis Edward Stuart, set up a rival court in Paris and Rome, and his son, Prince Charles Edward—Bonnie Prince Charlie—led an uprising in 1745–46 on behalf of his father’s cause. The continuous threat to Hanoverian rule, both at home and overseas, is reflected in the exhibition’s military maps and battle plans. They include a draft order of battle at Culloden, thought to have been produced by George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, who led the King’s troops to victory in 1746.


Vanderbank, Equestrian Portrait of George I, 1726
(Royal Collection 404412)

Although St James’s Palace remained the principal royal residence, the newly installed George I focused his artistic attention on Kensington Palace–its location outside London provided some shelter from the scrutiny of his more sceptical subjects. Here he appointed William Kent to decorate a new suite of State Rooms. The King filled Kensington with the best British furniture of the day, including pieces by James Moore and Old Master paintings, such as Don Roderigo Calderón on Horseback, 1612–15, and The Holy Family with St Francis, 1620–30, by Peter Paul Rubens.

The reigns of both Georges were fraught with familial strife. In 1717 George I expelled the Prince of Wales, the future George II, from St James’s Palace. Far from enduring a humiliating exile, the Prince established an alternative court, hosting ‘drawing rooms’, evening parties and balls, and regularly dining in public. Some 20 years later, George II’s son, Frederick, Prince of Wales (whose son George William Frederick became George III) was similarly banished and set up rival headquarters. Furnishing his private residences, the Prince could indulge his enthusiasm for the Old Masters. Among his acquisitions were Guido Reni’s Cleopatra with the Asp, c.1628, Anthony van Dyck’s Thomas Killigrew with an unidentified Man, c.1630, and ‘The Jealous Husband’, c.1660, by David Teniers.

Frederick presented himself as a fashionable man about town, entertaining freelyand informally—a typical supper party offered a menu of larks, pigeons, partridges, truffles, veal, turkey, lamb, turbot, salmon, teal, blackbird, asparagus, broccoli, sweetbreads, coffee cream and jelly. To dress his table, he commissioned dining plate in the new Rococo style, including the spectacular marine service by Paul Crespin and Nicholas Sprimont. Frederick’s mother, Queen Caroline, despised her son’s relaxed manner: “popularity always makes me sick,” she is reported to have said, “but Fretz’s popularity makes me vomit.”


After John Michael Rysbrack and Joseph Highmore, Posthumous Portrait of Queen Caroline, Consort of George II, 1739
(Royal Collection, 31317)

Queen Caroline, consort of George II, was the most intellectual member of the Hanoverian dynasty. Her interests combined art, genealogy and a passion for gardening. She undertook major landscape projects at Kensington Palace and at her private retreat in Richmond, where she commissioned Charles Bridgeman to lay out the new gardens, complemented by follies created by William Kent. The most remarkable of these was the Hermitage, a picturesque temple devoted to British scientists and theologians, encapsulating Caroline’s belief in the interdependence of science and religion.

During the course of the 18th century, the focus of British cultural life began to shift away from court. Artists achieved success and fame through their own efforts, without the traditional support of a royal patron. William Hogarth’s portrait of David Garrick and his Viennese dancer wife, Eva-Marie Veigel, captures one of the most high-profile couples of the age. When the portrait was painted, in c.1757–64, Garrick had already combined great financial success as an actor-manager with international celebrity. Hogarth himself was not only a prominent artist, but
also a writer on art and a noted philanthropist.

The favourite genre of the early Georgian period was satire, both pictorial and literary. In 1724, its greatest practitioner, William Hogarth, published The Bad Taste of the Town, ridiculing British taste for foreign forms of art, such as Italian opera. London’s leading exponent of Italian opera was the German composer George Frideric Handel, who was employed in many royal roles. He was music teacher to George II’s daughter, Princess Anne, who is seen playing the cello with her two sisters and brother, Frederick, Prince of Wales, in Philippe Mercier’s The Music Party, 1733.


Meissen, Tea and coffee service with chinoiserie figures, 1720s
(Royal Collection, 5000106)

The desire for fashionable luxury goods drove Britain’s commercial enterprise and turned London into the most important trading city in the world. The Chelsea porcelain works, one of several new ventures set up to compete with the newly established Meissen factory in Germany, typified the entrepreneurialism of the time. With the emergence of a new leisure class came an explosion of coffee houses, gaming haunts, assembly rooms, theatrical entertainments and pleasure gardens. In the painting St James’s Park and the Mall, c.1745, all elements of cosmopolitan Georgian society mix together, with Frederick, Prince of Wales at the centre, rubbing shoulders with his future subjects.

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The catalogue is published by the Royal Collection and distributed by the University of Chicago Press:

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, ed., The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714–1760 (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2014), 496 pages, ISBN 978-1905686797, £45 / $90.

97819056867972014 marks the three-hundredth anniversary of the succession of the House of Hanover to the British throne. In celebration of this historic milestone, The First Georgians explores the rich artistic culture of the early Hanoverian period.

This publication showcases more than three hundred of the finest works of this period, many of which have never been on public display before. Created in Germany, France, and Britain during one of the most dramatic periods of change across all aspects of political, intellectual, and cultural life, they reflect changing views of science, politics, and art throughout the early to mid-eighteenth century—the period when modern Britain was coming into being.

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