April 6, 2014 9:02 pm

The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714-1760, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London – review

'Thomas Killigrew with an Unidentified Man' (1638) by Anthony van Dyck

'Thomas Killigrew with an Unidentified Man' (1638) by Anthony van Dyck

Georg Ludwig, elector of Hanover, ascended to the British throne in 1714. Although more than 50 Roman Catholics were more closely related to his predecessor Queen Anne, he was chosen by parliament as her nearest Protestant descendent. This show, tied to a BBC4 television series starting this month, marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession and contends that the secular Georgian kings played a decisive role in Britain’s emergence in the 18th century as the world’s most liberal, commercial, cosmopolitan society.

Was there an art of the enlightenment? If so, it was embodied in the sceptical spirit of William Hogarth’s paintings, which satirise street life and fashion, as in “The Bad Taste of the Town”, and chronicle London’s cultural shift from court to coffee house and theatre. Hogarth’s “David Garrick and his wife Eva-Maria Veigel”, a Viennese dancer depicted as a rococo muse inspiring/distracting her more serious actor husband, is a quintessential Georgian conversation piece; rejected as unflattering by Garrick, it was subsequently acquired by George IV.

Both as collectors and contemporary patrons, the Hanoverians were sophisticated. Their acquisitions of Holbeins, Van Dycks and Isaac Oliver’s lyrical “A Young Man Seated Under a Tree” suggest a keenness to assert their English taste. They commissioned portraits enhancing their own cultural currency as leaders of a leisured class, such as Philippe Mercier’s record of four royal children in “The Music Party”, and they bought Canalettos glorifying modern London – “The Thames from Somerset House Terrace” shows a skyline dominated by the recently completed St Paul’s and a horizon of steeples of new city churches.

Including decorative arts and architectural projects, this show evokes the private and public spaces of a Georgian London whose entrepreneurial openness shaped modern Britain.

From Friday until October 12, royalcollection.org.uk

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