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Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace opens in Edinburgh

Release date: Friday, 25 March 2022

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A selection of the finest paintings in the Royal Collection have today gone on display at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse. Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace brings together over 30 spectacular works by artists including Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Claude Lorrain, Artemisia Gentileschi and Sir Anthony van Dyck. Included in the exhibition are four paintings by Rembrandt Van Rijn, the largest group of works by the Dutch artist currently on public display in Scotland.

In Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, this exhibition provides an opportunity to view these world-renowned paintings in a modern gallery setting, away from the historic interior of the Picture Gallery at 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 encounter each painting close up and at eye level. Visitors are invited to consider what makes a ‘masterpiece’, from the artists’ use of materials and composition to their evocation of the real world and the expressive quality of their works.

The paintings are arranged by school, beginning with a group of pictures created in Italy between 1530 and 1660, including both figurative subjects and landscapes. Several Italian works feature idealised female figures derived from the study of antique sculpture, such as  Guido Reni’s Cleopatra with the Asp, 1628, whose once-rosy skin seems to turn to cold marble before our eyes. Andrea del Sarto’s unfinished work Portrait of a Woman in Yellow, 1529–30, with its visible underdrawing and exposed underlayers, offers a portal into the Renaissance studio, as though we are watching over del Sarto’s shoulder as he paints. In Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura), c.1638–9, Artemisia Gentileschi places emphasis on the physicality of painting, depicting herself wearing a dirtied apron, brush in hand, leaning on a stone slab used for grinding pigments. In an era when few women had the opportunity to train as professional artists, Artemisia was the first woman to join the prestigious Florentine Academy and her paintings were in high demand among the European nobility, including Charles I, who owned this self-portrait.

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1642

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, 1642 ©

The exhibition also contains a number of works created in the Low Countries between 1630 and 1680, the heyday of the so-called Dutch Golden Age. Scenes of everyday life, such as the leisurely card game depicted in Pieter de Hooch’s Cardplayers in a Sunlit Room, 1658, are imbued with an arresting realism through the artists’ command of perspective, colour and detail. Compositional devices such as the false arches in Rembrandt’s Agatha Bas project people and objects into the viewer’s space, heightening the illusion of three-dimensionality. While working in Rubens’ studio in 1618–19, a young Sir Anthony van Dyck produced Christ Healing the Paralytic, populating the canvas with dynamic figures to maximise the drama of the scene. The subjects of Dutch and Flemish portraits exude character and vitality, often achieved through the artists’ innovative handling of paint. In Rembrandt’s A Rabbi with a Cap, 1635 (on display in Scotland for the first time in 60 years) the artist uses the stick end of his paintbrush to scratch fine lines into wet paint, evoking the ageing man’s wispy beard.

The exhibition concludes with a series of evocative landscape paintings. In The Farm at Laken, c.1617–18, Sir Peter Paul Rubens delights in showing us the natural beauty and fecundity of his Flemish homeland. The diffuse golden light and harmonious composition of Claude Lorrain’s A View of the Campagna from Tivoli, 1645 constrasts against the ominous skies and crashing waves of Gaspard Dughet’s Seascape with Jonah and the Whale, 1653–4, yet both works demonstrate the expressive potential of landscape painting.

Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace is at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, 25 March – 25 September 2022.

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