Normally the paintings adorn the iconic red walls of the Picture Gallery in Buckingham Palace, a restricted area used by monarchs to receive visitors. But even when the paintings are on public view during the annual summer opening, they are displayed at such heights that it is near impossible to appreciate them.
Essential maintenance at the royal residence has prompted curators to temporarily rehome all the paintings in proper gallery conditions next door. The exhibition, entitled ‘Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace’ is a rare opportunity to see works by Titian (1488/90-1576), Guercino (1591-1666), Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), Rembrandt (1606-1669), Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), and Canaletto (1697-1768).
Curated neither to prove an argument nor explore a theme, the exhibition instead seeks only to bring the visitor joy. “Painting has become more controlled by the information supply than other art forms“, remarked Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the surveyor of the Queen’s pictures. “Perhaps we haven’t shown paintings like this as much as we should“.
One such masterpiece on display is Vermeer’s ‘Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman‘. Painted between 1662 and 1665, it is one of only 34 paintings completed by Vermeer throughout his career. There is also an entire wall of Rembrandts, including ‘Agatha Bas‘, which is thought to be the most beautiful portrait in the Royal Collection.
Buckingham Palace is currently undergoing a £369 million renovation of its 775 rooms, updating ancient plumbing and replacing miles of cables and pipes. “We hope—no we’re sure—we’ll get the gallery back in a year, and then the pictures can go straight back onto the walls”, assured Shawe-Taylor. “The great thing about this exhibition is that we don’t have to build any expensive travelling cases, and just now saving a bit of money on not having cases made is a blessing, believe me”.
Yet some critics are displeased that the paintings will eventually return to the palace. Writing for the Guardian, journalist Jonathan Jones argued “while I’m grateful that some of the royal family’s treasures are being revealed for a limited time, I object to them then going back to being decorations for state visits, royal audiences and part of the tourist spectacle of the annual summer opening“.
This intriguing exhibition of paintings, formed over centuries by a series of monarchs, will surely delight visitors of the Queen’s Gallery, even if it is only for a brief period of time.
‘Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace‘ at Queen’s Gallery, London runs from 4 December 2020 to 31 January 2022.