Tributes for the Duke: Patron of the arts and hobbyist painter

As tributes pour in following news of the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, little known facts about Queen Elizabeth II’s husband have also begun to emerge including his devoted patronage of the arts.

The duke died aged 99 at Windsor Castle on the morning of Friday 9 April 2021. The longest-serving royal consort in British history, he took on some 22,191 solo engagements and made the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award a household name internationally.

While the duke garnered acclaim for his naval service and sporting prowess, he also harboured a great love and appreciation of fine art and design. He acquired several works by contemporary British and Commonwealth artists for the Royal Collection Trust.

Among the most notable pieces he collected were works by Barbara Hepworth, Sidney Nolan, and Mary Fedden. He was also fond of the ceramics of Austrian-born British ceramicist, Lucie Rie, and he collected political cartoons.

As president of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee from 1952-1999, the duke oversaw the design of coins, seals, medals. He played a key role in launching a newly designed coinage to commemorate the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign in 1952. When fire ravaged Windsor Castle in 1992, the duke chaired the restoration committee and contributed stained glass window designs for a new private chapel.

But the duke’s love affair with the arts went beyond patronage. According to artnet news, he also enjoyed time behind the easel and painted numerous oil portraits and landscapes. His most iconic work, ‘The Queen at Breakfast’ (1965) captures the queen enjoying a quiet moment as she pores over her morning newspaper in the dining room at Windsor Castle.

The work was first shared with the public in 2010 when it was published in the book ‘The Royal Portrait: Image and Impact’ by Jennifer Anne Scott. A former curator of paintings at the Royal Collection Trust, Scott said at the time she thought most people were unaware of the duke’s hobby. In her view, the duke’s portrait of the Queen is “a really good painting, it’s a got a real quality to it – it seems such a private moment, the Queen sitting having her breakfast, she could be anybody”.

The duke also enjoyed a long-time friendship with the artist Edward Seago. Known for his watercolours and oil paintings of beachscapes and street scenes, Seago is said to have informed the duke’s painting style and appreciation of the arts.

As the country observes a period of national mourning for the duke, yesterday (12 April 2021) also marked the day commercial art galleries reopened in England. Public museums and galleries will have to wait until 17 May 2021 before they can welcome visitors again.  

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