Monday, August 14, 2017

65 years of Royal Gifts exhibition at Buckingham Palace

As Prince Phillip retires and the Duke of Cambridge steps up to his new role of representing the Queen on a full-time basis, there's a certain sense of an imminent sea-change in the operation of the British Monarchy.

It's not at all surprising therefore to find that there is a retrospective exhibition at Buckingham Palace of a very tiny sample of the Royal Gifts that the Queen has received in the last 65 years - since she ascended to the throne on 6 February 1952.

Put simply there will never ever be another exhibition like this one - simply because it will be a very long time before any monarch reigns for more than 65 years...

Also - if you enjoy the British Museum and its ethnographic displays of people and their heritage then you will enjoy this exhibition - where you can see some of the very best of the very best examples of craftsmanship, skills and materials from around the world.

Royal Gifts exhibition 

A view of the Africa Exhibit in the State Dining Room gives you a sense of scale
The extremely popular Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace (until October 1st) has an exhibition every year.

It's not at all surprising that this year's exhibition looks back at one particular aspect of the very long reign of Queen Elizabeth - and also one which will be of much interest to people from all over the world.  Which during August is most of the people on the streets of central London! ;)

I visited the exhibition last week (for a special Bloggers Preview) and was able to see and admire the gifts on display. (PS I had intended this post for Friday but Blogger went on strike!)

All the gifts were presented to the Queen
  • as part of official duties - such as state visits and audiences. 
  •  during visits she makes in the UK for various events - such as a visit to a School (and it was very pleasing to see a number of gifts related to children)
The exhibition explores Her Majesty's role as Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth and Head of Nation through gifts presented by people from all walks of life and from over 100 countries and territories during State Visits, overseas tours and official engagements both at home and abroad.
The exhibition is an excellent example of ritual and decorative art and has been organised by Sally Goodsir, Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts. She told us that she  aimed to select one piece from all the countries visited and to make that selection representative of the country and in particular of particular materials or skills unique to that place.

I'm going to give you a sample of images of items below from the different continents.

Plus an insight into the nature of the Tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales which comes at the end of the exhibition - to mark the 20th anniversary of her death at the end of this month.

Display of Diana Princess of Wales personal possessions
within the context of her timeline


The tour starts in the Green Drawing Room where the walls are lined with green and gold silk. There's a certain recurrent theme throughout the exhibition of all things horsey which reflects the Queen's passion for horses. (Link to European exhibits)

Items presented include
a porcelain horse from France, a porcelain sculpture of the Queen on horseback from Hungary,
a bronze model of a Lippizaaner horse from Slovenia
and a Portuguese saddle finished in blue velvet and silver brocade


Oceania includes Australasia and all those tiny islands in the Pacific which are all members of the Commonwealth.  The  carving of wood was a major feature of this exhibit Australia was big on boomerangs while Tonga, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands preferred to present carved figures of various sorts.

Oceania exhibit in the 
Another recurrent theme is items of clothing and other useful items for the Queen that demonstrate both local materials and craftsmanship - and the range of places visited.
(Link to Oceania exhibits)

Top left - three raffia and feather fans from Tuvulu presented in 2002
Top right - White Kili bag made from woven coconut and pandanus leaves and a Straw and mother of pearl hat from the President of Niue
Bottom left - Coconut baskets from Queen Salome of Tonga - who was a big hit at the Coronation
Bottom middle - model catamaran from Western Samoa
Bottom right - cowrie shell tray from Kiribati
The Kili bag of woven coconut leaves was sent to Her Majesty The Queen by President Christopher Jorebon Loeak of the Marshall Islands following the Reception for Heads of State and Government attending the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games, Buckingham Palace, 27 July 2012.


The UK Exhibits are all in the Ballroom Supper Room. They represent very many visits to different parts of the UK and to many different types of organisations - including the armed forces, charities and organisations marking an important time in their existence. Many are much less formal than the state visits associated with other countries.

Five themes have been adopted to organise the gifts. Link to UK Exhibits:

Some of the UK Exhibits

I was very pleased to see two examples of work by children at the top and bottom of this exhibition

At the top is an embellised felt collage by the Seashell Trust who support children and young adults with complex learning disabilities in Cheadle Hulme - made to celebrate the Queen's 90th Birthday in 2016
At the bottom is the Diamond Jubilee Wall Hanging by Brighton & Hove High School 


I loved the Asia section which is in the Ballroom. Link to Asia and the Middle East Exhibits

The first cabinet in the Asia section of the exhibition
They really seem to put a lot of thought into their offerings and also take the same approach to demonstrating skills of their country. The sheer variety of gifts was also astounding.

Top left - a Khada (Buddhist Prayer Shawl) in silk - blessed by the Dalai Lama in 1962
to its right are a textile scale from a Hong Kong dragon and Morrin Kaur Horse head fiddle from Mongolia
Bottom centre - illustration of a heron on a box in Black, gold and silver lacquer on wood
from Emperor Showa (Hirohito) of Japan in 1953
Bottom right - a Burmese silver tea set


This Chinese ship was an amazing mix of craftsmanship and different media.

Vessel of Friendship from China
Bronze, gold, enamel, hardwood | 85 x 56 x 28 cm 

It was sat right next to a gift from Pakistan.


I'm sure the British High Commission Drivers in Pakistan will get some competition now this has been seen in the exhibition.

Painted truck, presented by the British High Commission Drivers
during her State Visit to Pakistan, 6–12 October 1997
Tin, wood, paint | 38.0 x 67.0 x 22.0 cm 


I loved a lot of the items in the Africa exhibit. Link to Africa Exhibit

The standout piece, in more ways than one, was the Botswana wall hanging.
The weavers – mostly women who now fully own the cooperative – produce handwoven wall hangings, tapestries, runners, napkins, cushion covers, jackets, and bedspreads, all designed by the weavers themselves. The wool is hand-woven and hand-dyed. Most designs depict rural scenes, animals or geometric patterns. Oodi Weavers | Botswana Tourism
Botswana wall hanging in woven raw wool by the Lentswe-la-Oodi Weavers (est. 1973).
Presented by President Seretse Khama, 1979

To give you a sense of scale!
The silk scarf to the right of the wall hanging was a present from President Nelson Mandela in 1996

It depicts San (Bushmen) hunting a herd of eland antelope in the Drakensberg Mountains, Eastern Cape and was made by Sarah Alexander Mackie a fine artist from Cape Town. She has also done extensive research for the South African National Craft Council, collecting information on indigenous art and craft.

The portrait of the Queen on the left was created from plant fibre and wood and was a gift from President Paul Kagame of Rwanda in 2006. Kagame previously commanded the rebel force that ended the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.


This gold tray was made by Bedros A Sevadjian (1918-77) an Armenian Jeweller who was jeweller to the Emperor of of Ethiopia and lived and worked all his adult life in Ethiopia.

Apparently his daughters are getting a private view of the tray which they remember him making.

Gold tray, presented to Her Majesty The Queen
by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

during her State Visit to Ethiopia, 1–8 February 1965
22ct gold | 51.4 x 78.8 x 5.5 cm
Various thrones, chairs and stools from Africa
Top: a wood carving of the story of creation for the Chewa people. From President Hastings Banda (1985)
 1985Left: Chair from Uganda (wood and straw) - from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, (2007)
Bottom left - Beadwork stool from President Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon (1982)
Bottom right - one of a pair of wood stools from President Kenyatta of Kenya (1972)
Right - Yoruba throne in Wood, glass beads | 131.0 x 62.0 x 63.0 cm
In 1956, the Yoruba people of Nigeria presented the Queen with a pair of thrones and the throne on the right is one of these.
Beadwork and royalty are closely associated in Yoruba culture, and large quantites are considered a sign of wealth and status.


The final exhibit is divided into:

Top right: Acrylic painting of Orca by Chief Tony Hunt at University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1983
Centre: Tiffany framed Photo of President Kennedy
- presented during a private visit to the UK and signed by President Kennedy
Middle left - a Duho Ceremonial stool in hardwood Hardwood (Swietenia Mahogoni)Bahamas 1975
I absolutely loved the piece from Mexico!  It has a small model of the Queen at the top and then models of a number of important buildings such as Tower of London and Big Ben.

Tree of Life for Her Majesty The Queen
presented to Her Majesty by President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico

during his State Visit to the United Kingdom, 3–5 March 2015

Tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales

At the very end of the exhibition - in the Music Room (often used for Royal Christenings) - there is a Tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales

It's a display of the desk and some of the personal belongings of Diana, Princess of Wales to mark the 20th anniversary of her death at the end of this month. The items have been chosen by her sons as representative of the working side of her life when preparing for or following up on her visits to different parts of the UK and overseas.

The personal desk and possessions of Diana, Princess of Wales
from her sitting room in Kensington Palace

photo copyright Making A Mark
Items on display include:
  • the leather blotter and letter rack she used for her copious correspondence - she always wrote and thanked all those she visited
  • a Silver calendar bade by Cartier which was a gift to The Princess from President and Mrs Reagan on the occasion of the official visit to the United States by The Prince and Princess of Wales in November 1985. 
  • frames of photographs of friends and family and particularly her sons
  • a Burgundy leather briefcase made by Asprey as a gift from the Worshipful Company of Glovers to Lady Diana Spencer on the occasion of her marriage in 1981. 
  • Round enamel boxes commissioned as gifts from Halcyon Days of London for The Princess to give to her hosts on official trips overseas. 
The desk also contains a Roberts Radio, a pocket Oxford Dictionary and a bottle of quinck ink! Plus her school tuck box is just off to the right together with a very big case of cassette tapes because she constantly liked to listen to the radio or music as she sat at her desk. Among the tapes in the case are albums by Diana Ross, Elton John and George Michael, as well as works from the classical repertoire of opera and piano concerti.

Visit the Exhibition

The ticket price for the exhibition (£23)  is expensive because it is part of the normal visit to the State Rooms - but it's a once in a  lifetime experiences and I very much recommend it to all those visiting London between now and the end of September

To visit the exhibition you need to buy a ticket to view the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace in August and September.

This is some practical information you need to know before you make your visit - mainly related to security but also photography and filming
Photography, video recording and filming including the use of wearable devices for non-commercial purposes are not permitted inside the State Rooms.
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication Royal Gifts: Arts and Crafts from around the World by Sally Goodsir. It is available at £9.95 from and from Royal Collection Trust shops in London and Edinburgh, and at £12.95 from all good bookshops.

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