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'Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace' to open on 4 December

Release date: Thursday, 13 August 2020

Rembrandt's Agatha Bas

Rembrandt's Agatha Bas ©

Sixty-five paintings that usually hang in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and are widely acknowledged to be among the highlights of the Royal Collection will be shown together in a gallery exhibition for the first time from 4 December 2020. 

In Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace, visitors can enjoy spectacular works by artists such as Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Dyck and Canaletto ‘close up’, and will be encouraged to consider the artists’ intentions, why the paintings were highly prized in their day and why we would now consider these works to be ‘masterpieces’.

The exhibition has been made possible by the removal of the paintings from the Picture Gallery, one of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, to prepare for the next phase of the Reservicing Programme, a major ten-year project to ensure the Palace is fit for the future as an official residence of the Sovereign and a national asset for generations to come.

This painting seems to have been something of a face-saver. In 1621 Rubens supplied Lord Danvers with a Lion Hunt (now lost), a studio work, not knowing that it was intended for Charles, Prince of Wales. Danvers had it sent back as ‘a peese scarse t

Self-Portrait ©

One of the themes explored in the exhibition is the artists' masterly use of paint. In Rubens’ Self-Portrait, 1623, thinly applied pigment brilliantly conveys the translucent quality of flesh, and blue and red highlights help create the impression of three dimensions. Several of the paintings have a mesmerising realism, in many cases enhanced by compositional devices which project people, objects and scenes into the viewer’s space, such as the false window ledges seen in Rembrandt’s Agatha Bas, 1641 and Jan Steen’s A Woman at her Toilet, 1663.

In other works, atmosphere, rather than precise detail, brings people and places to life. The rowers heaving their oars in Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day, c.1733–4, transport the viewer to the lively festival celebrating Venice’s marriage to the sea, while idleness, drunkenness and lechery are exposed in Jan Steen’s Interior of a Tavern, with Cardplayers and a Violin Player, c.1665. Atmosphere is also projected through narrative. In Cardplayers in a Sunlit Room by Pieter de Hooch, 1658, the furtive eye contact between the two men at the table suggests that they might be scamming the woman between them.

Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day

Canaletto’s The Bacino di San Marco on Ascension Day ©

Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace will be accompanied by a display charting the evolution of the Palace’s Picture Gallery after the acquisition of Buckingham House by George III and Queen Charlotte in 1762. Their son, George IV, commissioned the architect John Nash to transform Buckingham House into the principal royal palace in the 1820s. Part of Nash’s scheme was the creation of the Picture Gallery to show off George IV’s collection of paintings. During Queen Victoria’s reign, the Picture Gallery was opened to the public for the first time, when the royal family was not in residence. Today the Picture Gallery can usually be enjoyed as part of the annual Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace.

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

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