Royal Art Collections

The Royal Collection

National Gallery in London National Gallery in London

The art collection of the British Royal Family is displayed around thirteen Royal residences across the country. It includes some of the most important pieces of art in the world. The Royal Collection has been estimated at 10 billion pounds. But some say it is impossible to put a figure to the countless treasures assembled by the British Monarchs over the years.

The priceless collection does not belong to the Queen, it is held in trust by the reigning sovereign for her successor and for the Nation. In other words, it belongs to us all. The body in charge of the day to day care of the collection is the Royal Collection department, which receives no grants. It belongs to the Royal Collection Trust which is a registered charity which was set up in 1993. The Prince of Wales is chairman of the organisation.

The royal family has accumulated a huge amount of art over the centuries. The collection of some 150,000 paintings and prints by artists such as Rubens, van Dijck, Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael and Da Vinci drawings is dotted around the country. The vast collection of sculpture, jewellery, silver, ceramics, textiles and furniture was started by Charles I, although some of the collection dates from the reign of Henry VIII. This was added to by monarchs throughout the ages.

A lot of the art collection is exhibited in historic settings which do them justice. Some of the most important exhibits can be seen in the British Museum, the National Gallery, the V&A Museum and also the Museum of London.

The Queen's Galleries

There are changing exhibitions of the collection at the Queen's Galleries at Buckingham Palace in London and at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. More than 3000 items from the collection are on long-term loan to galleries and museums around the UK, but only 2% of the collection is seen by the public. Some of it is housed at the Queen's private residences like Sandringham House, which is not open to the public; and Balmoral Castle. Although it is possible to see some of the items at the Balmoral Castle ballroom exhibition from April till the beginning of August, most of it is in the private apartments of the castle. Some of the Royal Collection is also displayed in The National Museum of Wales and in the National Gallery of Scotland. Some of them are on loan abroad.

Buckingham Palace

The State rooms contain some very important works of art. The opulent setting gilded ceilings and chandeliers shows off the art to its maximum advantage. There are paintings by Brueghel, Rubens, Faberge, Van Dijck, Gainsborough and many more famous artists. There is furniture designed by William Vile, tapestries and many pieces of delicate porcelain.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace has some of Europe's finest tapestries, which were an important art form of the Tudor court. Henry VIII's Tapestries can be seen in the Great Hall.

An exciting new exhibit is the replica of the crown of Henry VIII, displayed in the Royal Pew. The original crown was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell, when the monarchy was abolished in 1649. Crown Jeweller Harry Collins and his team of goldsmiths were able to recreate it thanks to the detailed writings of the king's servants and a portrait of Charles I painted by Daniel Mytens in 1631, which shows the crown lying on a table. The crown was handcrafted using similar techniques. It contains 344 rubies, diamonds, sapphires, pearls and emeralds.

Not to be missed are the nine paintings called The Triumphs of Cesar, by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna are in the collection. Commissioned by the Gonzaga family, the set of paintings were eventually bought by Charles I in 1630.

Windsor Castle

You can also see items at Windsor Castle when it is open to the public. There is a vast collection at Windsor Castle, like the Da Vinci drawings, paintings by Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt and many more important artists.

The current exhibition runs until 9th June 2013 and is called 'The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch' and has a selection of official formal and commissioned portraits of the Queen, by artists like Pietro Annigoni, Annie Leibovitz and Cecil Beaton. Andy Warhol's screen print portraits have recently been bought to join the Royal Collection and can be seen at Windsor for the first time. There are also sculptures on display.

When fire ripped through nine rooms in the castle during the terrible fire in November 1992, thankfully none of the paintings were damaged. Most of the art works were removed the day before, as the rooms were being rewired. There was extensive damage to about 100 rooms, particularly the Crimson Drawing Room, which was completely destroyed. Restoration of the castle has been completed.

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