George IV was a great patron of the arts.He undertook several large architectural projects and constantly altered and refurnished his existing residences. He collected paintings by European masters, such as Rembrandt and van Dyck, as well as contemporary British painters such as Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs and Thomas Lawrence.
He was also a dandy who loved to keep up with the latest fashions and even designed exotic military uniforms for his Light Dragoon Guards.
Grossly overweight and suffering from gout, King George IV sits in an armchair looking like a washed-up dandy. Beside him is a mirror, covered with a cloth, and behind is a sequence of images portraying him in fashionable costume, from his youth to his coronation. The pictures emphasise George’s obsession with fashion, especially fancy uniforms, and trace his increasing girth. The title highlights that the monarch is a performer. Heath lifted the line from William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. George holds open a book entitled Diversions of Purley. This is a reference to a work by John Horne Tooke, a philologist and radical politician. In his trial for treason Tooke had won over the crown prosecutors. The inclusion of the book is probably meant as a joke since it is unlikely that George would have enjoyed writings by a radical on such specialised subject matter.
The print satirises the king’s extravagant hobbies, particularly his many building projects and his love for Chinoiserie.
King George IV is shown as a Chinese figure sitting on top of a teapot, labelled ‘Treasury’, that spouts coins. He pets a giraffe while surrounded by other expensive ‘playthings’. The C-shaped hookah pipe refers to Lady Conyngham, his latest lover. Architectural models represent his extensive building projects. They include John Nash’s Royal Pavilion and Buckingham Palace, and Decimus Burton’s screen and gate for Hyde Park Corner. A Chinese servant holds a note that reads ‘Plan of Intended Improvements at Windsor’, referring to the plan for the architect Jeffry Wyattville to build an extension to the medieval castle. On the top shelf is a clutter of partly built church models, a reference to the 1818 Act for Building New Churches. George’s beloved Life Guards, for whom he designed uniforms, are shown processing up a plank, led by the Duke of Wellington in the guise of a cockerel.