Each year, the summer opening of Buckingham Palace puts on a new exhibition, and in the Jubilee year, they’ve filled a room with the Queen’s jewels and photographs of her wearing them.

The summer opening lets you into many of the grand state rooms, the throne room, ballroom and the recently restored long gallery lined with enough paintings to make a major art gallery weep. It also opens with something slightly different this year, a 6-metre long street party sculpture that’s been made from felt by Lucy Sparrow. It’s a remarkable feat of craftsmanship. If sadly not actually edible.

About halfway around the tour of the palace looking at the grand rooms is the annual exhibition.

This year’s display centres around 24 official portraits of The Queen taken by the photographer Dorothy Wilding, whose royal photos are best known for the Wilding series of postage stamps. For the first time, Wilding’s original hand-finished prints are shown alongside items of jewellery worn by Her Majesty for the portrait sittings, some of which have never been on public display before.

What’s fascinating about the exhibition, apart from the jewels on show, is seeing the unused versions of photos that were to later go on to become famous. The Queen uncut if you like.

To my mind, not all of her photos seem to be a success. The engagement photo for Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten looks like it’s been strongly influenced by Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

A lot of the jewels are reminders of past Imperial connections, for good or ill depending on your perspective, with for example the South African necklace made from diamonds dug up locally. There are also Indian links, with the Delhi Durbar necklace on show. They’re all brilliant jewels and wonderous to see, but we should also know the context in which they arrived. That knowledge deepens our understanding not just of past Imperial ambitions, but how the Monarchy has changed for the better as it modernises to reflect society as it is today.

One of the most recognisable jewels in the exhibition is The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara, originally a gift to the future Queen Mary in 1893, and later a wedding present to Princess Elizabeth in November 1947.

The other recognisable jewel is the Diamond Diadem, which is probably the most reproduced image ever, as the Queen wearing it appears on coins and postage stamps. It’s interesting to learn that the coronet was chosen only because the Queen couldn’t be photographed wearing a crown until after the Coronation.

So, had the photos been taken a few weeks later, who knows, our stamps and coins could have looked very different.

The exhibition ends with a series of portraits taken in May 1956, shortly before Wilding retired for new currency, though ultimately the images were not used. The Queen is shown wearing the Vladimir Tiara, which was made for Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia around 1874 and sold by her daughter to Queen Mary in 1921.

Then you’re back onto the rest of the tour of the palace, ending in the garden at the back.

You can stop for lunch overlooking the gardens, which is a nice treat for the view and sheer surrealism of lunching in Buckingham Palace.

The gift shop is huge and packed full of the tourist goodies you expect, and then a surprisingly long walk around the garden perimeter to the exit, which is most unpalace-like, being a doorway in the high wall, bringing you out opposite the Irish Embassy.

Buckingham Palace will be open from Thursday to Monday until 2nd October.

Adult: £30 | Young Person: (18-24) £19.50 | Child: (5-17) / Disabled: £16.50 | Under 5: Free

Tickets need to be booked in advance from here.

Note that photography is forbidden inside the palace.

A money-saving tip on the price.

After you book online, print the tickets before you arrive*, and when you leave the palace, have the ticket endorsed at the gate, and you can go back for free for a year — so if you visit later this summer, you can go back early next summer and see next year’s exhibition for free.

In effect then, an adult ticket is £15 per year for two years, which is much better value for money.

*I am told they can print tickets for you, but I haven’t tested that.


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