George IV's tastes in Dutch art on show in Scotland

EDINBURGH Thu Apr 29, 2010 3:51pm IST

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EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - The French Revolution of 1789 and the Napoleonic wars opened up a massive European art market, and some of the British royal purchases of the time are featured in a new exhibition of Dutch landscape and marine paintings in Edinburgh.

The exhibition of 42 works by 17th century Dutch artists from the royal collection runs at the Queen's Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from Thursday through to January 9 2011.

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, surveyor of the Queen's pictures who curated the exhibition, said 34 of the paintings were bought by the Prince Regent (subsequently King George IV) between 1809 and 1820.

"A lot of major collections of Dutch art around the world were formed around that date. The French Revolution and the invasion of Holland which followed released into the market huge quantities of fabulous works -- émigrés needing to support their émigré habit, loot sort of getting into circulation again -- so it was an incredibly good time to be buying," he told Reuters at an exhibition preview.

He said it was not surprising that the prince sought Dutch art. Traditionally, there were strong links between London and the Low Countries going back more than two centuries. Dutch painters also provided an alternative to the much more stylized works favored by the monarchies of continental Europe.

"But what surprises us still is how much he was prepared to pay for it" -- huge sums even by today's standards.

Works on display include paintings by Jan van der Heyden, Meyndert Hobbema, Jacob van Ruisdael and Adiaen van der Velde, with striking contrasts between lush interiors of a richly developed country and the harsh coastal dunes unchanged over the ages.

The maritime paintings with the clarity and detail devoted to the vessels themselves are also an outstanding feature of the display.

Shawe-Taylor said the Dutch works had had a "huge impact" on British artists at a time John Constable (1776-1837) and J.W.M. Turner (1775-1851) were at the height of their powers.

"Turner absolutely adored the Dutch artists, particularly the marine painters. He saw a painting by (Willem) van de Velde late in his life and said, "Ah, that made me a painter, gave me the inspiration.""

The current show also complements an exhibition on the Masters of Flanders, from Breughel to Rubens, at the gallery in 2007.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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