Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A visit to the Queens Gallery and the Royal Collection

The curious thing about living in London is that we never ever go to any of the conventional tourist attractions. However, at the end of August we had A Royal Day Out.

This is the 'everything you can see' ticket for the 19 state rooms at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews and the Queens Gallery. The main reason for doing this was that we were going to see an exhibition at the Queens Gallery - and we decided to make a day of it!

Amazing Rare Things is an exhibition about natural history in the Age of Discovery. I've covered it in the past in relation to
First though we visited the Treasures from the Royal Collection. My jaw kept dropping. It's not just the paintings - although the paintings by Vermeer, the Rembrandts, the Caravaggios the Canalettos were pretty special. The miniature paintings of past members of the Royal Family are absolutely stunning - a definite 'must see' for anybody who really likes portrait miniatures. The Faberge collection and the diamonds were also pretty amazing - in fact I have to say I haven't been so near to so much very high quality sparkley stuff for a very long time - if ever. We're talking Culinan diamonds here!

We then went to the gallery housing the Amazing Rare Things exhibition which continues until 28th September 2007 and has an excellent microsite.

The gallery is a good size, with everything well displayed and easy to see. I felt very privileged seeing some of the things on images on display. Even though I'd seen all the images on the microsite, I also really enjoy going to an exhibition and finding how much better the pictures look in real life and this was no exception!
  • I've seen some of the Da Vinci drawings before but I don't think I will ever tire of images like the Star of Bethlehem or the sketches of cats, lions and a dragon! It's such a curious juxtaposition of cats which are obviously drawn from life and a dragon drawn from his imagination (see if you can spot the dragon on the magnified version). It made me think about how he took what he observed, recorded and knew and extrapolated it into what could be. A lesson for us all maybe?
  • The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo is rather weird as he commissioned the work and was not the artist. He obviously liked things with weird shapes!
  • The collection of Wenceslaus Holler ethcings of shells is housed in display cabinets so you can see them all together - and very impressive they are too. Plus it really demonstrates very clearly the impact of working in a series.
  • I've been seeing Mr Marshal's Flower Book in various places this summer and hadn't quite realised its association with this exhibition. Alexander Marshal (c.1620-1682) was a gentlemand gardener and his flower drawings are a perfect delight (click the link to see more)
Over a period of thirty years Marshal compiled a ‘florilegium’ (flower book) of 154 folios recording plants growing in English gardens. Of the numerous species depicted, many are exotic newcomers; others are native plants. Although Marshal was not a professional artist, his florilegium - the only English flower book to survive from the period - contains some of the most beautiful plant studies in botanical art.
Amazing Rare Things - Alexander Marshall
  • Merian's work is simply stunning. What I didn't feel prepared for was the saturation of the colours and the beautiful ways she finds of getting flowers and insects to intertwine. These works are done life size in watercolour on vellum and they're amazing! Actually some of the life sizes are a bit off! You can find out more about her in Maria Sibylla Merian - Resources for botanical art lovers
  • The watercolour paintings by English naturalist Mark Catesby (1682-1749) were compiled as part of the first comprehensive survey of the flora and fauna of south-eastern North America (then part of the British colonies) and published as the Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. What's fascinating is that he painted his fish from several fresh specimens to get the colours which faded after the fish was out of water and then died. The superb paintings are testament to his fidelity to what they really looked like - the Great Hogfish being particularly memorable.
The catalogue of of the exhibition is a high quality publication and is one of those heritage type of book which are really nice to own if you are at all keen on exploration and/or natural history and/or botanical art. I've got the hard back and even though I've been to the exhibition and and explored the microsite I'm still pleased I've got it to look back at in years to come.

Finally we went round the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace. This is where having booked a ticket in advance makes you feel very sensible as the queues to buy tickets are long. They admit a crowd of people at intervals so there's a little bit of a wait but not too long.

I'm not going to dwell long on these other than to say it's the most impressive place I've ever visited. Plus walking down the Picture Gallery quite took me back to the play/film A Question of Attribution in which Prunella Scales palys the Queen and talks to the spy Anthony Blunt - also Keeper of the Queen's Pictures in the Picture Gallery.

They had a special display this year. For the very first time they opened up the room used for A State Banquet. Check out the really elaborate nature of the Rockingham Porcelain Dessert service - which apparently bankrupted the factory! Apparently the claim is made that the service, originally consisting of fifty-six large pieces and twelve dozen plates, may is the most ambitious ever produced by an English factory.

"He who must not be bored while I sketch" is also not a particular fan of the 'concept' of royalty per se - even if he has met most of them! However he is a huge history buff and was really impressed with the content of day - and we didn't even get as far as the Royal Mews. The reality is that it exceeds by a very long way visits to other cultural heritage sites. I'm not comparing it to conventional art museums and galleries as such - although the standard of presentation was excellent.

The Royal Collection e-gallery

The e-gallery is absolutely amazing in terms of the drawings and paintings in the Royal Collection and the quality of the detail of their presentation. This is one for the art history buffs - set aside a nice comfy chair and a few hours if you want to have a good browse.

Buying tickets

I highly recommend buying your ticket for the Queens Gallery online. The entrance is timed as the rooms are not large and hence numbers need to be managed. You can pick your ticket up from the Palace shop in Buckingham Palace Road and then cross the road to visit the gallery - where there is another shop!

There's no point in contemplating A Royal Day Out - which is the one we got - unless you're in London between the end of July and the end of September which is when the State Rooms are open.

Also - there is an option to fill a form in and have your ticket stamped as you leave which means you then get free entrance, when the venue is open, for the next 12 months - which is a great bargain for those of who live in London. We didn't actually make it to the Royal Mews and will be going back to do that on another day.

Plus I'm going to be going back to see the next major exhibition - Bruegal to Rubens - Masters of Flemish Painting which is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace between 17 October 2008 - 26 April 2009 - for free! This is the link to the catalogue - and I think they will deliver internationally.


1 comment:

  1. You do know how to make a girl wish she were in London! I'm going to have to set aside time to explore your links. You are a wonder, Ms K. Thank you.


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