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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I made my third visit to Windsor Castle at the weekend in order to get the most out of my 1-year pass. It was a lovely sunny day and the Round Tower was looking smart. The Royal Standard was flying to show that the Queen was in residence.
I went on one of the Precinct Tours which I hadn’t done before. Our guide was very interesting and told us lots of things, some of which I hadn’t known before. We stopped briefly to see this Order of the Garter symbol which I hadn’t noticed previously.
Inside the Castle, I visited the Semi-State Rooms which are only open during the winter months, between September and March. These were created for George IV, completed in 1830, and are decorated lavishly. They were almost destroyed during the 1992 fire but have been thoroughly restored; luckily, the objects inside the rooms had been moved elsewhere at the time.
Another interesting and relaxed visit. I wonder if I will get the chance to go again before my pass runs out in June.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I visited Clarence House on Sunday, deciding to take advantage of the annual August opening. I was a little late getting to the house, as I managed to get lost on the way, and Google Maps was a bit confusing. I was impressed with the staff though as they made a big effort to ensure that I, and the two other latecomers, were hurried through security and taken to join our tour group. I really didn’t miss much of the tour.
The house was originally built between 1825 and 1827, designed by architect John Nash. The first residents were Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence (the third son of George III), and his wife Adelaide. When he became King George IV he remained in the house rather than remove to Buckingham Palace. Other royal residents followed, including, for a brief time, the current Queen, when she was Princess Elizabeth, and recently married to the Duke of Edinburgh. On her ascension to the throne, the house became the home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived here (accompanied for some time by Princess Margaret) until her death in 2002. Today, the house is the “official” London residence of the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry.
The house is beautifully decorated and I was particularly impressed by the art collection, most of which was acquired by the Queen Mother. Artists represented include Augustus John, Walter Sickert and Graham Sutherland. One picture I especially liked showed George Bernard Shaw with his eyes closed – he didn’t like it but the Queen Mother decided to buy it anyway! I was also excited to see a piano that was actually played by Noël Coward.
We were told stories about the house and the rooms, such as the annual Christmas party for sick children in which soldiers place Christmas decorations on top of the tree with their swords. I think I would quite like to see that! We didn’t get to see the entire house, only the ground floor, including the “horse corridor” – so called because of the pictures of horses lining the walls.
Clarence House is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in history and/or art. It’s now closed for the year, but as far as I know should be open next August as usual.
Address: St James’s Palace, St. James’s, London, SW1A 1BA
Frogmore House, the royal residence next to Windsor Castle, is only open (apart from group visits) for one weekend in the year. I visited on the Saturday, having prebooked my ticket, although in the end I hadn’t really needed to as although there were plenty of people in the house, it certainly wasn’t crowded.
I hadn’t realised what a long walk it would be from Windsor to the house – more than once I found myself looking longingly at the little buggy transporting people with more reason to avoid walking than I. Still, it was a nice day, if a little too hot for me, and the gardens were beautiful, well worth a wander through. On the way I passed a small chapel as well as the mausoleum in which Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert are buried. Unfortunately it is not possible to visit the mausoleum, as it is in need of repair and currently deemed unsafe for visitors.
The house itself had a homely feel (as far as a stately home like this can be called “homely”), and I was impressed with the various collections of knick-knacks on display. One room was entirely given over to black lacquer boxes, another contained relics from the Royal Yacht, Britannia. The house was originally built in the late seventeenth century, and was bought by George III a century later for the use of his wife Queen Charlotte. Other notable residents include the Duchess of Kent (mother of Queen Victoria) and the future King George V and Queen Mary, the latter of whom turned the house into a kind of museum.
Frogmore House is definitely worth a visit, if you can get there when it is open. Several people were picknicking in the grounds and looked as if they were having a lovely time. It would be possible to visit both Windsor Castle and Frogmore House on the same day, if you were organised and started early!
As I probably mentioned when I last wrote about Windsor Castle, you can get your ticket stamped so that you can return as many times as you like within the next year. I took advantage of this on Saturday when I returned to Windsor to visit Frogmore House (on which more later).
My reason for returning was to experience two tours that are only available during August and September. These are Conquer the Tower, which allows you to climb to the top of the famous Round Tower, and The Great Kitchen, which allows you to see inside the oldest working kitchen in the UK (and possibly the world). These tours cost extra, but I didn’t mind this too much as I was able to get into the castle itself for free.
Conquer the Tower
I had to be inside the Engine Court for both tours. For the Tower tour there was a covered space beside the entrance where lockers were stored: we had to put our bags in here. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the building or in certain directions when we were outdoors, as you are not allowed to take photos of the Queen’s apartments. However, there was plenty to photograph even with these restrictions.
Our guide was brilliant, knowledgeable and friendly. He pointed out the narrowing staircase, allowing for better defence of the Tower, and the cannon poking out of the wall above us. There are 200 steps up to the top of the tour, but luckily we were able to break our journey partway through. There is a slope around the mid-level of the Tower, which was designed so that soldiers could drop boulders from the top and have them bounce off at an angle and land on any unfortunate enemies trying to besiege the Castle!
The view from the top of the Tower was great. We could see over the town of Windsor itself, as well as the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park (down which I would walk later to visit Frogmore House).
In the other direction we could see as far as the Shard in London, although we couldn’t quite see Wembley Stadium which is sometimes visible on a clear day.
By a happy coincidence, our tour was timed to coincide with the Changing of the Guard, which we were able to observe from up above. The band also obliged us by playing, not a hymn or patriotic anthem, but Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen!
I really enjoyed the tour – but it was a little chilly up there, so I wasn’t sorry to descend. On the way down, our guide told us that a twelve-year-old boy was buried under the staircase – he had died of the plague many centuries ago.
The Great Kitchen
The meeting point for the Great Kitchen tour was on the other side of the courtyard. We were taken through the exit from the State Apartments, past the lines of people getting their tickets stamped, and through a slightly hidden door. We were shown the undercroft (sadly, our tour guides told us that they didn’t have access to the impressive wine cellar!), one of the oldest parts of the castle which was only properly discovered after the fire in 1992 (previously it had been converted into offices).
The kitchen itself is huge, with a high ceiling and lots of space. I loved the contrast between ancient and modern: the kitchen space is incredibly old, and there are still some old cooking ranges present, but the worktops are stainless steel and the lowered lighting is designed so that chefs have an excellent light to work by. The ceiling is cleverly designed: it looks very old, but it in fact conceals air vents. There were photos on display showing some of the impressive creations concocted by the chefs, who are responsible for cooking for State banquets. Sadly I couldn’t take any photos of the kitchen, but it’s pretty impressive. Lastly we visited the pastry kitchen, where desserts are created.
If you are visiting Windsor Castle during August or September, I strongly recommend including one or both of these tours in your visit – the Tower tour in particular.
I finally got around to visiting Windsor Castle. About time, too, since I live in West London, so it’s really easy to get to. I had the day off work to go on a visit to the Royal Library; this wasn’t until the afternoon so I thought I might as well go round the Castle in the morning.
It’s impossible to miss Windsor Castle when you arrive in Windsor (I got the shuttle from Slough after the train from Paddington, which goes into Windsor & Eton Central; there’s also a train from Waterloo which arrives at Windsor & Eton Riverside). It towers over the small town, and there is only a short walk up a hill to the Visitor Centre. I was initially taken aback at the size of the queue, which extended all the way down the road; however, I soon discovered that this was the queue for groups, and individual visitors could go straight through. I paid and got inside within ten minutes.
The area covered by the Castle and the grounds is large, and I had a map and an audio guide to help me. The guides are full of information and very interesting, so I didn’t feel the need to go on one of the half-hourly Precinct Tours up to the State Rooms. I spent some time wandering about the grounds, learning about the history of the place, which has been home to English and later British royalty for hundreds of years.
It was around eleven by this time, so I decided to go and see the Changing of the Guard, which happens every day at this time. There was quite a crowd, but the sloping bank ensured a good view for everyone. I last saw this ceremony years ago at Buckingham Palace. It is a very bizarre event and I am not sure why so much shouting is needed. It must be quite embarrassing for the soldiers having crowds of gawping tourists standing around, but I suppose they get used to it.
Afterwards, I decided to go and see inside St George’s Chapel, as I was right next to it. The chapel is beautiful and I think it was my favourite part of the whole experience. Sadly photos were not allowed, so you’ll have to take my word for it how stunning it was. Famous monarchs including Henry VIII and Charles I, as well as the current Queen’s parents and sister, are buried here, and the chapel is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, with ceremonial helmets – some of the most outlandish of which wouldn’t look out of place on Lady Gaga – on display inside. However, my favourite part was the small corner chapel in which Princess Charlotte is buried. This little-known Princess was the only (legitimate) child of George IV, much loved by the public, but she sadly died in childbirth in 1828; on her death, Princess Victoria – later one of our most famous monarchs – became heir to the throne. Her white marble tomb is a monument of sentimental Romanticism, with her dead body shrouded in a beautifully sculptured sheet, and angels lifting her and her stillborn child up to heaven.
After coming out of the chapel, I wandered further into the grounds and made my way towards the State Rooms. There are two entrances here: you can go straight to the State Rooms, or stand in a queue to see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. In my opinion this is not to be missed. An exquisite replica of a stately home, it was built for Queen Mary by the leading British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924. The amount of detail is striking: you could look at it all day and still not see everything. My favourite part was the library, with tiny miniature books (later, during my Royal Library visit, I was able to see some of these books close-up!). This area also has two larger, almost child-size dolls on display: called France and Marianne, they were presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for their daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, by the French Government during the 1938 State Visit to France. I have to say I was pretty envious of the dolls’ designer wardrobe!
This area of the Castle is home to a series of temporary exhibitions. The current exhibition is called Treasures From the Royal Archive and I couldn’t imagine a better exhibition to catch my interest. The Royal Archive is made up of the official and private papers of the Sovereign and other members of the British Royal Family, together with the records of the Royal Household and the private Royal estates. Some of the exciting artefacts on display include Princess Elizabeth’s (the Tudor Princess Elizabeth, who later became Elizabeth I) account book from the mid-sixteenth century, the title deed for the purchase of Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace) dated 1763, and a letter of condolence to Queen Victoria from US President Abraham Lincoln on the death of Prince Albert. Some of the items I found rather touching, such as Princess Elizabeth’s (the current Queen) written account of her parents’ coronation in 1937, and the telegram she sent to her own mother on her 100th birthday.
The next stop was the State Apartments themselves. You may remember the fire of 1992, which destroyed much of this part of the Castle: I don’t, since I was only seven at the time, but the rooms have been rebuilt and refurbished, and the effect is impressive. There is a plaque marking the place where the fire began, near St George’s Hall and the Grand Reception Room.
I found my audio guide very helpful in this part of the castle, as there was a great deal of information to impart. The Castle has been the home of 39 monarchs over the years, but it is the influence of Charles II (r.1660-85) and George IV (r.1820-30) which is most marked. Artists whose work adorn the Castle walls include Grinling Gibbons, Rembrandt and Reubens. The Apartments are still used today on special occasions.
There are toilets at various locations, and places to sit; there are a number of souvenir shops, and you can buy drinks and ice cream, but there are no cafes or restaurants. However, you can get your ticket stamped if you want to leave the Castle for a meal and then come back. My visit took me half a day, so it would certainly be possible to see everything you want to before having to leave to get food.
In common with other Royal Collection sites, your ticket – so long as it is not bought from a third party – is valid for a year after first entry, providing you get it stamped and signed by a member of staff. There is a desk for this down some stairs to the left as you leave the State Apartments. I fully intend to make the most of this, as I live within easy travelling distance of Windsor. I would also like to have the chance to visit the Semi-State Rooms, which are only open from October to March.
Windsor Castle is definitely worth a visit: with nearly 1000 years of history, and lots to see and do, it’s a really enjoyable day out.
I paid my first visit to Buckingham Palace in 2011, but for some reason never published my thoughts until now. The Palace is probably one of London’s most famous visitor attractions and is hugely popular with tourists. The State Rooms are open for visitors during the summer months only, and any ticket you buy is valid for a year provided you get it stamped before leaving. It is recommended that you buy your ticket online before you go as it does get very busy.
The entrance to the Palace is on Buckingham Palace Road, just past the entrance to the Queen’s Gallery if you are coming up from Victoria Station. After queuing to buy/collect your tickets, you pass through security, but this isn’t too much of a hassle as every single member of staff is really friendly.
Originally known as Buckingham House, the building became a palace in the early nineteenth century when King George IV decided to modify and improve it. The work was concluded by his brother William IV, but it wasn’t until Victoria came to the throne in 1837 that Buckingham Palace became the official residence of the monarchy.
During Victoria’s reign, further building work was carried out: the new East Wing, now the “front” of the Palace, was built to close off the quadrangle, and the façade was given an overhaul in 1913. Today, Buckingham Palace has over 800 rooms, and 240 bedrooms for the Royal Family and their live-in staff. It is still the home of the Queen, but is owned by the state and paid for by the Government, helped by the income from visitors each summer since 1993, when it was first opened to help pay for the rebuilding of the fire-damaged Windsor Castle. As well as acting as a Royal residence, the Palace hosts numerous state and diplomatic functions, and the “Changing of the Guard” takes place each day just outside.
Once inside the Palace, it’s best to use the audio guide to help you get around, as it is packed with interesting information about what you are seeing. The State Rooms are very impressive, with gorgeous gilt decorations and incredible artwork. The Picture Gallery in particular has paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens. I liked seeing the Throne Room, familiar from official pictures of the Royal Family, and the back of the famous balcony.
The Royal Wedding was the theme when I visited, and there were some interesting exhibits about William and Kate’s nuptials. The highlight for me was Kate’s wedding dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Close-up, it was possible to appreciate the detail and thought that had gone into creating the dress.
After exiting the house, you walk through the garden with impressive views of the back of the Palace. You leave the grounds via the gift shop, which has plenty of tasteful and not-so-tasteful Royal-themed memorabilia.
It’s expensive, but a visit to Buckingham Palace is worthwhile, and if you live in London it’s good to make the effort at least once. Even better, get your ticket stamped and go back the following year for free.