This series is to mark the 200th anniversary of this brief but revolutionary and creative period. At its helm the Prince Regent himself, the great patronizer of art and design.
On the BBC 4 website she asks us when was Britain at its most elegant and most decadent, its most stylish and most radical. Her answer as you might expect is that it was the regency and she goes on to explain why she thinks that. Also detailed on this page is what we can expect from this series. It looks at the man the era was named after, the Prince Regent, along with other Royals and Aristocrats as well as its working people and how they all experienced this decade, 1811 to 1820. Also covered are the celebrities of its age – the likes of Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Joseph Turner and John Constable.
In the first episode Warts and all – Portrait of a Prince she looks at how the Prince Regent, George IV, was obsessed with outdoing Napoleon – “not on the battlefield but in terms of opulence, bling and monumental architecture’. The BBC iPlayer page provides further details of this episode.
She finished her opening introduction advising us that there was a lot more to the regency than Mr Darcy!
Her team at Kew Palace on discussing what the public know about The Prince Regent, reported on a visiting little girl who said he was ‘Sad Mad Bad and Fat’!
George was the United Kingdom’s ruler but a regent not its king owing to the temporary absence of his father George III due to his incapacitating mental condition, yet despite this he was the subject of much virulent irreverent satire by commentators and cartoonists. It is hard to imagine any of our present royal family being pictured as a whale which in ‘The Prince of Whales’! he was. Nearly two hundred years on our satirists seem very tame if not obsequious to our current heads of state – whether Royals, Lords or Commons.
The program looks at George’s art collection – he bought prodigiously – including the most expensive in his collection Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and His Wife.
Alongside his collection the program looks at the extensive collection bequeathed to Dulwich College by Peter Francis Bourgeois, landscape artist and court painter to George III which unlike the Prince’s private collection was open to the public. His collection could have been left to the British Museum but he considered it was ran by snobs and too closely associated with the Regency Inner Circle. He was of the father’s royal court not the son’s. Hence his bequest to the Dulwich College. The Architect John Soane built an art gallery within the college grounds to house them, also out of money left by Bourgeois. It was the first gallery open to the public.
The Prince Regent also liked his clothes – his budget for fashion as extravagant as that for his art-works. The most fashionable man in London at this time was Beau Brummel – whose influence also extended to the Prince. The program uses ‘Dandy’ by The Kinks to showcase their outfits – Brummel himself is credited with inventing the suit. Though when saying his budget it is notable that he bought his extensive wardrobe on credit – he ran up huge debts, many remaining unpaid.
At this time Britain was the reigning European superpower having just beaten the French and Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo – but the Prince Regent had little to do with it not being a soldier let alone on the fields of battle. But he was clearly vain-glorious and self-delusional and had become the subject of many paintings with him as the conquering war hero – Wellington a mere shadow of him. Appearance trumping reality reminding that spin is nothing new just the methods of its commission.
The royal portrait painter was Thomas Lawrence, president of the Royal Academy, and referred by Lucy Worsley as the ‘Chief Flatterer’ and very definitely counter-weight to the cruel cartoon caricaturists. Lawrence was the Photoshop of his time, routinely taking pounds and years off the monarch.
To most of his subjects these paintings would be all they would have seen of him. Appearance clearly was more important than reality.
I look forward the next episode Developing the Regency Brand which will explore its architecture as part of the rebuilding of Britain during this period.
- Regency Treats (londonhistorians.wordpress.com)
- George IV: the rehabilitation of Old Naughty | Lucy Worsley (guardian.co.uk)
- You: BBC4 chief: we are not going to be axed (guardian.co.uk)