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Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace opens at The Queen's Gallery, London

Release date: Thursday, 3 December 2020

Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace

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Spectacular paintings widely recognised as among the highlights of the Royal Collection – including works by Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer, van Dyck and Canaletto – have gone on display together in a gallery exhibition for the first time. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace, opening at The Queen’s Gallery in London tomorrow (Friday, 4 December), brings together 65 of the most treasured paintings that usually hang in the Picture Gallery, one of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace.

The exhibition gives visitors a unique opportunity to view these world-renowned paintings afresh in a modern gallery setting, away from the historic interiors of Buckingham Palace, where they can usually be seen as part of the annual Summer Opening of the State Rooms. The more intimate display at The Queen’s Gallery gives audiences the chance to enjoy each painting close up, inviting them to consider what made these works astonishing at the time of their creation, what they can offer a modern viewer and why these paintings deserve to be described as ‘masterpieces’.

Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace is organised by school, with groupings of Italian, Dutch and Flemish paintings each containing some of the finest examples ever produced.  A series of works created in the Low Countries between 1630 and 1680, the heyday of the so-called Dutch Golden Age, includes Johannes Vermeer’s ‘The Music Lesson’, early 1660s; Gerrit Dou’s The Grocer’s Shop, 1672; A Woman at her Toilet, 1663, by Jan Steen; and Pieter de Hooch’s Cardplayers in a Sunlit Room, 1658. Modest in scale and depicting scenes of everyday life, these works are often admired for their minute detail, tactile surfaces and ability to suggest spaces filled with light and air.

Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace

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Artists from the Low Countries also produced works belonging to the more traditionally prestigious branches of art, such as narrative paintings, commissioned portraits and ambitious landscapes, often larger in scale. Portraits by Dutch artists including Rembrandt van Rijn and Frans Hals imbue their sitters with character, vitality and movement, often achieved through their skilful and innovative handling of paint. Frans Hals’ serrated brushstrokes on the sleeve of his Portrait of a Man, 1630, convey a sense of movement by creating the shimmering effect of light on black satin. Rembrandt uses fine lines scratched with the back of a brush to etch time into the wrinkled skin of Griet Jans and Jan Rijcksen in his ‘The Shipbuilder and his Wife’, 1633. He uses the same technique in his Portrait of Agatha Bas, 1641, to give the impression of soft downy hairs around his subject’s temple.

Traditionally called The Shipbuilder and his Wife, this couple were identified in 1970 as Jan Rijcksen (1560/2-1637) and his wife Griet Jans. He was a shareholder in the Dutch East India Company and from 1620 their master shipbuilder; both were Roman Cath

"The Shipbuilder and his Wife": Jan Rijcksen (1560/2-1637) and his Wife, Griet Jans ©

The exhibition includes paintings created in Italy over a period of 200 years, encompassing several strands of Italian art. Expressive landscapes range from the cataclysmic storm in Gaspard Dughet’s Seascape with Jonah and the Whale, c.1654, to the unruffled stillness and hazy, diffused light of Claude Lorrain’s Harbour Scene at Sunset, 1643. In The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day, c.1733–4, Canaletto is at his most recognisable, transporting the viewer to the lively festival celebrating Venice’s marriage to the sea.

The exhibition has been made possible by the removal of the paintings from the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace as the next phase of the Reservicing Programme begins. The major ten-year project will overhaul the Palace’s essential services, including ageing pipes, electrical wiring and boilers, to ensure the building is fit for the future as an official residence of the Sovereign and a national asset for generations to come.


Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 4 December 2020 – January 2022.