George IV: Art & Spectacle – Queen’s Gallery

George IV painting

George IV: Art & Spectacle is the latest exhibition to take place at the Queen’s Gallery, London. This king, who spent many years as Prince Regent (giving the Regency period its name) before taking the throne in his own right, is portrayed here as a keen art collector whose legacy can still be seen today.

Growing up, George was not allowed to leave the country owing to the orders of his father, George III, so instead he collected works of art from all over Europe and the east, as well as paintings of subjects closer to home – his family, and earlier monarchs. His energies were first directed at Carlton House, his London residence, which he filled with art, sculpture and furniture, but his vision eventually outgrew this comparatively small living space. Famously, he established the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, and on becoming king he instigated work at Windsor Castle and Buckingham House, transforming the latter, under the care of architect Thomas Nash, into Buckingham Palace.

It seems that George did have a keen eye: he collected works by the likes of Rembrandt, as well as commissioning works of his own. He enjoyed literature too, keeping a collection of Jane Austen’s works in each of his residences, and inviting Sir Walter Scott to dine.

One thing I found interesting about the exhibition was that George, spending money lavishly at a time of economic hardship for many of his subjects, was widely disliked, and this image of him has coloured our perception. I’m not really surprised, and it makes me wonder if having this exhibition now was really a good choice, as poverty levels in the UK reach crisis point. Not long ago, there was criticism over a plan to refurbish Buckingham Palace during this time of austerity, and however much George IV embraced the arts, I feel similarly about his own spending, fascinating as this exhibition was.

Russia – Queen’s Gallery

I almost completely forgot about the Russia exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, but luckily managed to make it there on the very last day. The exhibition was actually divided into two sections, together encompassing history, photography, war and revolution.

Shadows of War: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 was the first part of the exhibition. Fenton was the first photographer to document a war for public consumption. He spent four months in the Crimea, from March 1855. His pictures capture the reality of war and the lives of soldiers in the field. There are some incredible shots, including pictures of the infamous “Valley of Death” (from the Tennyson poem, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’) littered with cannonballs, as well as images of important figures from the war. One of my favourite pictures was of a soldier clearly suffering from shellshock, something which was not really known about or considered at the time.

Valley of Death
The ‘Valley of Death’
Shellshocked soldier
Shellshocked soldier

The second part of the exhibition was Russia, Royalty & the Romanovs, concentrating on the reigns of the numerous monarchs who made up the Romanov dynasty. There were some fascinating paintings and artefacts, including the picture of Peter the Great, highlighting his seagoing achievements (which he partly developed during a visit to London). Some beautiful Faberge eggs were displayed, but probably the most poignant item was a small suit made for the young Tsarevich Alexei.

Peter the Great
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great
Nicholas and Alexandra's coronation
Nicholas II and Alexandra’s coronation

Charles I: King and Collector – Royal Academy of Arts and Charles II: Art and Power – Queen’s Gallery

The Royal Academy and the Queen’s Gallery are both playing host to seventeenth-century royalty-related exhibitions this year. I don’t know if they planned it this way or not, but they certainly made the most of it, offering a joint weekend ticket including tea and cake. I’ll admit the cake swung it for me.

Royal Academy of Art

The Royal Academy exhibition, Charles I: King and Collector, was actually due to end on the day I visited, so it was very busy. This didn’t stop me from getting a good look at the works on display, however. Works are categorised by theme, with the Italian Renaissance, the Northern Renaissance and Van Dyck and Reubens in England grouped in separate rooms, or else their former location: pictures that were hung in the Queen’s House can be found in one room, and those from the Whitehall Cabinet in another. The Mortlake Tapestries adorn one room, while images of Charles I in the hunting field hang in the Central Hall.

The exhibition consists of works that were accumulated by Charles I before and after he became king. He loved art and was a keen collector, but after his execution his collection was broken up and sold off (some of the catalogues can be seen here). This exhibition reunites these works after several centuries. Some didn’t have far to come, having got back into the Royal family’s hands after the Restoration, or else having been sold to wealthy collectors in the UK. Others, however, ended up in Europe or the US, and have been loaned for the purposes of this exhibition.

I must admit that in themselves, I didn’t fall in love with many of the works on display here (though I did enjoy seeing the full-length portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, an image I recognised from A level History). However, I was impressed by the collection as a whole, and the way in which it reflects Charles’ impact on the art world.

Queen's Gallery

After my restoring cup of tea and piece of cake I walked through Green Park to the Queen’s Gallery, where Charles II: Art and Power is currently being hosted until 15 May. This exhibition follows on from and complements the Charles I exhibition, focusing on Charles II and how he made use of art to convey his power. It began with a small display of items relating to the Civil War, the execution of Charles I, and the Protectorate, and went on to focus on the art that he collected and that was produced during his reign. Some of this was originally part of his father’s collection and had been brought back; others were new acquisitions.

In terms of the historical interest, I think I preferred this exhibition, partly as it was much quieter and much easier to see the artworks. There were surprises too: for instance, I had no idea that the famous painting of Erasmus was once part of a pair, and the two paintings were attached together.

The most dramatic work in this exhibition is the huge portrait of Charles II (the one that adorns all the publicity material) that dominates the last room. In its display of power and authority it is reminiscent of the painting of Charles I on horseback displayed at the Royal Academy; knowing what happened to the first Charles, I wonder if the second Charles drew this comparison and wondered; or if he just didn’t care.

Regardless, these are a fascinating pair of exhibitions, well put together and worthwhile for their historical context as much as their artistic context.

Masters of the Everyday/High Spirits – Queen’s Gallery

As I have an annual ticket to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, I made sure to use it to visit the most recent exhibition before it closed. In fact, there were two exhibitions: Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer and High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson.

Masters of the Everyday

I began by visiting Masters of the Everyday, which looked at Dutch art of the seventeenth century, mainly focused on everyday life: families, children, music, food. One of the highlights was Vermeer’s ‘A Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman’, but my personal favourites were the Rembrandts: seemingly simple but demonstrating incredible skill – I almost felt as if the figures in the paintings were going to step out of the frames and speak to me.

High Spirits

The second exhibition, High Spirits, focused on the work of Thomas Rowlandson (1757–1827), the English caricaturist, whose satirical work was popular in his time and remains significant today. His cartoons offer political commentary and observations on contemporary society. I liked this exhibition too: the crisp colours and sharp lines belied the age of the works, and their content was a fascinating and often amusing look into the life of the era.

Both exhibitions close on 14 February, so there’s still time to see them if you want to.

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden – Queen’s Gallery

The Queen’s Gallery

This weekend I visited the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace in order to see the exhibition Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden. Described in the introduction as “where man and nature meet”, gardens have existed in many different forms over the years: public and private, open and closed, reflecting the owner’s status and approach to life. The exhibition looks at the many different ways in which artists have looked at gardens between 1500 and the early 20th century.

The very first picture on display was an example of a garden as paradise: Mir ‘Ali Sir Neva’i’s Seven couples in a garden (c. 1510). From then on, the exhibition was divided into themes, following a roughly chronological order.

The Sacred Garden explored the use of gardens to represent symbolic meaning, for instance in Rembrandt’s Christ and St Mary Magdalene at the Tomb (1638). These pictures often show religious scenes and include objects such as the fountain of life. It was only in the 16th century when real gardens started to appear in art: Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (1615) includes lots of different animals, including parrots, horses and lions. I enjoyed trying to spot all the different animals in this picture.

The Renaissance Garden shows how from the late fifteenth century, formal, classical and literary-influenced gardens were common, with such features as mazes and topiary. Pozzoserrato’s Pleasure Garden with a Maze (1579-84) features a Venetian setting and is a very grand garden. Around this time, books about gardens by figures such as John Evelyn and Gervase Markham were common. On display is Henry VIII’s copy of the first and most important garden manual of the Renaissance, the Ruralia Commoda (c. 1490-95) by Petrus de Crescentiis.

From the 16th and 17th centuries, new kinds of flowers and plants were brought over from Africa, Asia and the New World and cultivated in Europe: The Botanic Garden looks at the growth of the science of botany and the ‘florilegium’ or flower book during this period. Still lives became more common: I particularly liked Maria van Oosterwyck’s Still Life with Flowers and Butterflies (1686), a beautiful picture. Some of Da Vinci’s drawings of plants are on display, as well as a painting from around 1677 showing Charles II being presented with a pineapple cultivated in England – impossible as pineapples were not grown in this country at that time.

Still Life with Flowers and Butterflies (1686), Maria van Oosterwyck

The small room between two of the gallery rooms is given over to elaborate china and some exquisite Fabergé flowers from around 1900. The next section, The Baroque Garden, explores how water features, aviaries and urns became popular in ever more elaborate gardens. Large scale, aerial views were common in art as people wanted to show off their gardens. This section includes pictures of London palaces, including Kensington and Buckingham, as well as Windsor Castle’s garden and William III’s gardens at Hampton Court, shown in Leonard Knyff’s painting from around 1703. Other works include Jacob Wauters’ A pergola (c. 1650) and Jakob Bogdani’s Birds in a landscape (c. 1691-1714).

The Landscape Garden looks at what was apparently England’s greatest cultural export of the eighteenth century, in which nature and rolling views were seen as ideal. William Hogarth’s The Family of George III (c. 1731-2) shows the royal family in the beautiful Richmond palace gardens. Other pictures show St James’s Park and the Mall as well as Kew Gardens, emphasising the people walking around enjoying them. This section also includes the beautiful Sunflower Clock (c. 1752), made by the Vincennes Porcelain Factory.

The Sunflower Clock

The Horticultural Garden examines the growth of horticultural expertise, the emphasis of nurture over nature and the language of flowers, showing how plants were moved indoors and cultivated. The royal family were increasingly seen in a garden setting in both real life and art: Laurits Regner Tuxen’s The Garden Party at Buckingham Palace 28 June 1897 (1897-1900) illustrates the party that took place to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. The exhibition ends with a display of some beautiful fans decorated with flowers, as well as some garden-inspired jewellery given by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria.

I really enjoyed this exhibition: it was interesting to see how the representation of gardens in art has evolved through time. I would recommend it to anyone interested in art, and also to those fascinated by gardening.

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East and Gold – The Queen’s Gallery

I really like going to see exhibitions at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace: they are always interesting and well-curated, and the one-year pass system – by which you buy a ticket on your first visit, get it stamped at the end, and gain free admission to the site for a year – means that you can see three different exhibitions for under £10. I visited on the last day of two smaller exhibitions that have been running since last autumn.

Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East

The first exhibition was Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East, which examined the Middle Eastern journey of the Prince of Wales (the later King Edward VII) in 1862, encompassing Egypt, Palestine, the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. The exhibition mainly consisted of photographs taken by Francis Bedford (1815-94), which are evocative and beautiful. They had originally been exhibited immediately after the tour, when they fascinated Victorian audiences, particularly as many of the pictures were of sites it was very difficult to visit in person. I loved the pictures, although I was slightly concerned at the amount of heritage the Prince of Wales was seemingly allowed to keep for himself, like the statue of Queen Senet.

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Pyramids of Cheops and Cephrenes [The Great Pyramid and the Pyramid of Khafre, Giza], 1862

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Queen Senet, XII Dynasty (c.1985-1785 BC)

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View from the Seraskier Tower [The Golden Horn, Istanbul (then Constantinople)], 1862


The second exhibition was Gold, which explored “the beauty and symbolism of gold, from the Early Bronze Age to the 20th century”. A fascinating range of items from the Royal Collection were displayed. I particularly liked the 18th-century tiger’s head from Mysore, India, and I also loved the painting The Misers which illustrated the evils of a love of gold and a miserly nature.

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Order of the Golden Fleece; Badge of Prince Albert. Might have belonged to George IV. c.1820

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Impressive tiger’s head

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The Misers, Follower of Marinus van Reymerswaele (c.1490/95-c.1567), 1548-51

The Queen’s Gallery

The Queen’s Gallery, an art gallery I have visited many times over the years, is part of Buckingham Palace and can be visited in conjunction with the State Rooms and the Royal Mews (stables). However you can also choose to visit the Gallery alone. It puts on around three exhibitions a year and is open all year round unlike the State Rooms and the Royal Mews which are open during the summer season only.

If you buy your ticket direct (either online or in person) you can get it stamped at the end of your visit which makes it valid for a whole year. This is great value as it means you can go back to subsequent exhibitions at the Gallery. It’s worth noting that the summer months are very crowded and it might be difficult to visit with your ticket at these times, as timed tickets are normally on sale for this period.

This year-long validation does not apply if you buy your ticket from a third party. This may not matter to you if, for instance, you are coming from a different part of the country on a trip as you may not be able to return within a year. For someone like me, however, who lives in London, this is ideal.


The Queen’s Gallery is located on Buckingham Palace Road next to Buckingham Palace itself. If visiting by tube, Green Park station (near Piccadilly Circus) is a short walk away and the route through the park is very scenic. If you are coming from the other direction, Victoria Underground and National Rail station is almost directly south from the Gallery. Tour buses and normal red buses also stop outside. The Gallery is clearly signposted and is next to the Royal Mews.


As might be expected, security is very tight here owing to its proximity to Buckingham Palace. You have to undergo a bag search and walk through an airport-style scanner. However all the staff are very friendly and cheerful and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable during this process. The gift shop is right next to the ticket desk so you can visit without paying for admission. After buying your ticket and walking through security you get to the gallery itself. There is a free cloakroom where coats and heavy bags can be left – we took full advantage of this. Toilets are available too and these are clean and smart.

Audio guides are available, but I didn’t bother with one. Photography for non-commercial purposes is permitted, but not flash photography.

*Gift Shop*

The shop is well-stocked and sells the usual Royal memorabilia, some of it tat and some of it in rather better taste. A number of items relating to this particular exhibition were available, ranging from cuddly penguins to a glossy photography book. I bought some postcards, which I rather regret as they were quite expensive – £5.95 for a pack of ten – but then I was very interested in the subject matter and I have a mind to frame them and put them on my wall!

*The First Georgians*

The exhibition I visited on this occasion was The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760, marking 300 years since the accession of George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover in Germany, to the British throne as George I. He was the first constitutional monarch, and began a long-enduring dynasty which lent its name to the Georgian era. The first room of the exhibition puts faces to names with paintings of the key players in the royal family, such as the three Georges and Queen Caroline.

The exhibition goes on to look at some of the things for which the age was noted, such as the art of William Hogarth, china, silverware and trinkets from “toy-shops”, as well as furniture, sculpture and paintings by the Old Masters. There were plenty of architectural designs and plans for royal residences including St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, as well as artefacts from less savoury aspects of the age, including military maps and items to do with Culloden and other Jacobite risings.


Address: Buckingham Palace, London, SW1A 1AA


Opening Hours: Approx 10am-5.30pm during exhibitions

Prices: £10 adult, £5.20 child

Castiglione: Lost Genius and Gifted: From the Royal Academy to The Queen – The Queen’s Gallery

I popped in to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace on Saturday, just before attending a play at the nearby St James Theatre. There are currently two exhibitions at the Gallery: Castiglione: Lost Genius and Gifted: From the Royal Academy to The Queen.

Castiglione exhibition

Of the two, I definitely preferred the Castiglione exhibition. The artist (1609-64) was known as one of the greatest of the Baroque period, and became well-known for his drawings and prints. These are beautiful, unusual and vibrant, revealing a unique artistic sensibility. He also invented the technique of monotype, which led to the creation of dramatic works of art. He fell into near-obscurity in subsequent centuries, and this exhibition aims to go some way towards restoring his fame.

Castiglione exhibition

Castiglione exhibition

Gifted showcases the works presented to the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee by the Royal Academy.  There are over 100 drawings and paintings in the collection, and I liked some of them, but wasn’t particularly impressed by others. Modern art isn’t really my thing.

Gifted exhibition

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion – The Queen’s Gallery

The exhibition In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion ran until Sunday at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. I managed to catch it on Saturday, just before it closed.

QueenThe exhibition focused on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and mostly looked at monarchs and courtiers, exploring how their costumes displayed social status and other aspects of their culture and personality. At the time, royalty and the elite were trendsetters, and their clothing often influenced fashionable style.


While the majority of the exhibition was made up of paintings, many by important figures such as Hans Holbein the Younger and Peter Lely, some items of clothing were also on display, including gloves, a doublet and a lace collar. There were also some beautiful pieces of jewellery.

The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein – The Queen’s Gallery

I really like the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. It has rotating exhibitions which change every few months or so, and when you buy a ticket you can get it converted into a 1-year pass enabling you to go back as many times as you want over the course of the year. I had the day off on Wednesday and visited the Gallery for the third time this year, in order to see the exhibition The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein.

I studied the Reformation in Europe as part of my History A Level and many of the pictures in this exhibition were of figures I am familiar with. One painting, which appeared in the first room, was of Desiderius Erasmus, a hugely important intellectual figure and inspiration to Martin Luther who kickstarted the Reformation. In our class he was known as ‘Daddy Rasmus’.

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‘Daddy Rasmus’

This painting, and many others at the beginning of the exhibition, was by Albrecht Dürer, a German painter and printmaker who is commonly regarded as one of the greatest artists of the period. I recognised several of his engravings, including the Knight, Death and the Devil, from A Level textbooks. Much of his work has a strong Gothic feel, and he utilised classical imagery in his work. He drew and painted many of the prominent figures in the Northern Renaissance.

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Hans Holbein the Younger is known for his work at the Tudor court; he came to England from Germany where he first developed as an artist. Sketches, drawings and paintings by him show his ability to capture in detail the expressions and personalities of the figures of the period.

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The work of other artists was also represented in the exhibition: tapestries, altarpieces and paintings all capture the important themes of the period, reflecting the turbulent age in which they were created. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were a time of dramatic change in Europe, with intellectual exploration, religious questioning and a shifting of the balance of power. The works of art portrayed here are interesting in their own right, but are also emblematic of the wider issues of their age.