Collection paints George III as a monarch mad about art

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There are just two things that most people think they know about George III: he went mad and he lost America.

There are just two things that most people think they know about George III: he went mad and he lost America.

But now the Royal Family is aiming to rehabilitate the "mad monarch" with the first major exhibition on George III, focusing on his role as an intellectually curious patron of the arts and science. Following on from the personal appearance of the Prince of Wales on BBC2 last month in a programme defending the king, the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace today unveils George III and Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste.

Five hundred objects showing the breadth and depth of George III's interests, from architecture to horology and painting to pottery, will go on display. These will examine his role in establishing the Royal Academy, as a patron for the writer Samuel Johnson and the astronomer William Herschel, and in supporting British manufacturers, from Josiah Wedgwood to the metalwork craftsman Matthew Boulton.

Sir Hugh Roberts, the director of the Royal Collection, said the exhibition constituted one of the largest and finest groups of Georgian material ever assembled, and they hoped it would illustrate a different, lesser-known side to Britain's second longest-serving monarch. "Every schoolchild remembers that he went mad and lost America. In a curious way, Alan Bennett's wonderful play [ The Madness of King George , later also a film] reinforced that in the public mind," Sir Hugh said. "But he reigned from 1760 to 1820 and it was only the last 10 years when he was out of action completely. We wanted to take the opportunity to look again at what he and Queen Charlotte did. They were very interesting figures as collectors and as patrons."

The exhibition includes highlights of two collections of art bought by George III, one from the British consul in Venice, which included the finest group of Canalettos in existence as well as a painting later identified as a Vermeer, and the other from a cardinal, which included drawings by Guercino. There are rare examples of the king's library of 65,000 volumes, most of which were given by his son to what became the British Library.

Queen Charlotte was a knowledgeable botanist who knew leading figures such as Joseph Banks. She also gathered around her and supported a number of female artists, such as Mary Knowles.