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Sketches of outfits worn on Coronation Day to go on display

Release date: Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Her Majesty The Queen in her Coronation Dress, 1953, Norman Hartnell

Her Majesty The Queen in her Coronation Dress, 1953, Norman Hartnell ©

Sketches by British couturier Norman Hartnell, the principal designer of the outfits worn at the Coronation of Her Majesty The Queen, will go on display this summer as part of the special exhibition, The Queen’s Coronation 1953, at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace.

The exhibition celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Coronation by bringing together an unprecedented array of the dress, uniform and robes worn for the historic event on 2 June 1953.  Paintings, works of art and objects used on the day will also be included, alongside film footage and sound recordings, to recreate the atmosphere and the pageantry of a State occasion that has remained essentially unchanged for 1,000 years.

The sumptuous outfits worn by royalty and the peerage contributed greatly to the spectacle of Coronation Day.  Norman Hartnell (1901-79) was responsible for designing The Queen’s Coronation Dress and Robe, the dresses worn by all the principal ladies of the immediate Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and the outfits for the Maids of Honour.

Hartnell’s influence on Coronation Day also extended to the outfits worn by the peeresses.  According to the Earl Marshal’s orders, peeresses were expected to wear Robes of State and coronets according to their rank, together with kirtles and coronation dress.  Those who were not in possession of this attire, and who were below the rank of countess, could wear alternative robes and dress. Hartnell submitted designs for both alternative dress and head coverings, as his original watercolour and pencil sketches in exhibition show. 

Norman Hartnell had great experience of designing for royal ceremonial occasions.  His first major commission as a royal couturier was to create the dresses for the Maids of Honour to Queen Elizabeth, consort of King George VI, at the 1937 coronation. 

Hartnell’s design for The Queen’s Coronation Dress, considered to be his masterpiece of royal couture, is recorded in a sketch presented by the designer himself to Her Majesty in 1953.  The drawing, in watercolour and bodycolour over pencil, shows in detail the full-skirted gown with its tiers of rich embroidery terminating in a wide multi-coloured border.

Exhibition curator Caroline de Guitaut of Royal Collection Trust said, ‘Norman Hartnell had extensive experience of designing for the Royal Family and was therefore uniquely placed to create dresses for the Coronation.  He brilliantly combined magnificence with a respect for the tradition and requirements of the occasion.’

The Queen’s Coronation 1953 is part of a visit to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, 27 July – 29 September 2013.