The refurbishment of Buckingham Palace has given the nearby Queen’s Gallery a rare opportunity to put a range of Masters on display in a gallery setting for the first time.
Usually, on display in a long gallery within Buckingham Palace, it can be said that these paintings are often seen, but rarely observed — being in a corridor people walk through, and often high up the wall in an old fashioned layout.
At last they are at eye level, and spread out in a style that’s both more fitting for the paintings and for human needs for social distancing.
A total of 65 paintings have been chosen for this highlights of the Royal Collection exhibition.
Being a collection of art that’s been built up over centuries, it’s inevitably a menu of headline names that would usually warrant an exhibition each of their own — Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, Van Dyck and Canaletto — but here sitting side-by-side complimenting each other.
The exhibition has organised by school, with groupings of Italian, Dutch and Flemish paintings — ranging from small intimate portraits right up to massive landscapes which at last you can get up close to see the details as well as standing back to see the whole.
Some of the smaller paintings once cluttered in with the bigger landscapes are finally able to shine in their own right.
A charming oil painting from 1668 gives a rare glimpse of a lost game known as “Lady come into the garden”, which seems to be an early form of strip-poker.
A painting of a lost tradition begs its return – of Kermis on St George’s Day — basically a fair and festival with follies on St George’s Day.
A landscape of cows turns out to be an allegory for the Eighty Years’ War with a Dutch cow allowed to graze in peace — a sort of Dutch version of the British Bulldog on the White Cliffs of Dover.
Elsewhere, what looks to be a completed painting turns out to be merely a sketch by Rubens in 1611 for a later larger painting. Even sketches by a master outclass a full painting by lesser people.
One couple of paintings are cleverly combined if you spot the link – the sculptor with one item, for an artist shouldn’t be seen showing off, while the rich collector is shown showing off with a huge collection of art to demonstrate his wealth.
The gallery the paintings are usually housed in was created in the 1820s, and has been refurbished several times, the last time in the 1970s, when a frankly, rather 1970s glazed ceiling was added making this space within a Palace feel more like a local council gallery. Albeit one with a lot of Grand Masters hanging on the walls.
The paintings range from acquisitions by Princes and Monarchs, to gifts given to a Monarch.
As many of these paintings would normally fill exhibitions about the individual artists, this is a fairly rare chance to see a medley of a collection united by quality rather than topic.
Adult entry costs £16, and if you book online then validate the ticket when you visit, it gets you unlimited repeat visits for a year.