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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace: A Brief History

What is the Queen’s Gallery?

The Queen’s Gallery is a gallery housing the Royal Collection located in Buckingham Palace, the home of the monarch of the United Kingdom

The Queen's Gallery Gate

The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace is a purpose-built exhibition space dedicated to showing the treasures of the Royal Collection. Comprising about a million objects, including painting, sculpture, jewellery, furniture, works on paper and the largest collection of portrait miniatures in existence, it is one of the UK’s most significant art collections.

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A History of the Queen’s Gallery

Over the centuries, British monarchs have often been collectors of art, or else major patrons of artists. The Royal Collection is a unique and invaluable record of the personal tastes of British kings and queens from the Tudor period to our present day. It is the largest private art collection in the world, and one of the last remaining royal collections of art to remain intact.

But this wasn’t always the case. The most important additions to the collection were made by Charles I, a great collector and enthusiastic patron of the arts – that is, until his untimely death in 1649. After losing the Civil War to the Parliamentarians and Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, Charles was convicted of high treason and executed. His possessions, including the entire Royal Collection, which at this point contained 1,500 paintings and 500 sculptures, were sold at Cromwell’s instruction. The sale took place at Somerset House and made £185,000 for the English Republic. It wasn’t until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 that the Royal Collection began to be re-acquired by the former king’s son, Charles II, piece by piece. These are the items that form the basis of the collection today.

Both George III and IV were pivotal in the expansion of the collection. The former focused on Old Master drawings, while George IV was captivated by the Dutch Golden Age. A wily collector, he also took advantage of new access to the art market in the wake of the French Revolution. A huge amount of high-quality French decorative art was being sold off in France at this time, and the king was responsible for accumulating an outstanding collection of 18th-century French furniture and porcelain, including a notable collection of porcelain from Sèvres. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert added works from the early Italian Renaissance, as well as commissioning an astonishing range of portraits, ceremonial paintings and scenes of everyday life.

The Queen’s Gallery possesses a collection of drawings, prints and watercolours which includes some works of global significance: 550 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci – drawings of human anatomy, landscape, water and natural history; 85 portrait drawings by Hans Holbein; works by Raphael, Michelangelo and the Carracci family. The folio of Holbein drawings was discovered in 1727 by Queen Caroline of Ansbach in a drawer in Kensington Palace, where it had been lying forgotten for years.

The Queen’s Gallery was opened in 1962, on the bomb-damaged site of Queen Victoria’s private chapel. It holds several annual rotating exhibitions showcasing everything from Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings and Canaletto’s views of Venice to Peter Carl Fabergé’s bejewelled eggs. The Royal Collection is no longer owned by the monarchy, but held in trust by the Queen for the nation.

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