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Press release

Two major exhibitions and a BBC season will tell the story of the Royal Collection

Release date: Monday, 22 May 2017

John Michael Wright, Charles II

John Michael Wright, Charles II ©

The Royal Collection is a unique national treasure, without parallel in its holdings of works of art of the highest quality that reflect the history of the United Kingdom and the relationship between the Monarchy, this country, its people and the wider world.  Several monarchs have contributed to its formation, but it is generally agreed that it was Charles I who assembled the first collection in Britain that could stand comparison with the royal and ducal collections of continental Europe. 

Today, Royal Collection Trust announced partnerships with two great national institutions, the Royal Academy of Arts and the BBC, both of which will bring the treasures of the Royal Collection to a wider audience.

Exhibitions about the collections and court culture of two kings who shaped the Royal Collection as we know it today, Charles I and his son Charles II, will open at the Royal Academy of Arts and The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace respectively, while a BBC Royal Collection Season, including a four-part series about the history of the Collection, will be the most extensive broadcast coverage of the Collection in 40 years.

In January 2018, the Royal Academy of Arts will present Charles I: King and Collector, a landmark exhibition, organised in partnership with Royal Collection Trust, that will reunite one of the most extraordinary and influential art collections ever assembled.  During his reign, Charles I (1600–1649) acquired and commissioned exceptional masterpieces from the 15th to the 17th centuries, including works by Van Dyck, Rubens, Holbein, Titian and Mantegna, amongst others.  Charles I was executed in 1649, and just months later the collection was offered for sale and dispersed across Europe.  Although many works were retrieved by Charles II during the Restoration, others now form the core of collections such as the Musée du Louvre and the Museo Nacional del Prado.  This exhibition will reunite around 150 of the most important works for the first time since the 17th century, including 91 works from the Royal Collection, providing an unprecedented opportunity to experience the collection that changed the appreciation of art in England.

Following the execution of Charles I and after over a decade of Republican rule, the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 saw a resurgence of the arts in England.  Charles II (1630–1685) was keenly aware of the importance of princely tradition and magnificent display in enforcing his right to the throne and in creating a royal court that could re-take its place on the European stage.  He re-acquired many works from his father's great art collection and to these he added magnificent paintings and extraordinary groups of Renaissance drawings. Charles II's new court style was heavily influenced by the luxurious French fashions he had seen at the court of Louis XIV at the beginning of his exile.  He filled his royal apartments at Whitehall Palace with elaborate decorative arts, including tapestries woven in Parisian workshops and silver furniture in the French taste.  Opening in December 2017, Charles II: Art & Power at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace brings together over 220 paintings, miniatures, drawings, prints, books, furniture, sculpture, ceramics, tapestries and silver from the Royal Collection.

Broadcast to coincide with the two exhibitions in early 2018, the BBC's Royal Collection Season will have as its centrepiece The Royal Collection (W/T), a four-part television series on BBC Four, written and presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon.  Visiting royal residences, museums and galleries across the country, Andrew will tell the story of the Collection, from world-famous masterpieces by Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Canaletto to its lesser-known treasures, explaining what the objects meant to the artists who created them and to the royal collectors who acquired them.  Also part of the Royal Collection Season, a one-hour BBC Two programme presented by Brenda Emmanus, Treasures Reunited: Charles I at the Royal Academy, will explore the Royal Academy’s landmark exhibition.  Further BBC programming in the Royal Collection Season will be announced later in 2017.

The BBC Four series will be accompanied by the book A Royal Collection (W/T) by Michael Hall, the first official history of the Collection, published by BBC Books. 

Jonathan Marsden, Director, Royal Collection Trust, said, ‘These significant partnerships with the Royal Academy of Arts and the BBC not only strengthen the long-standing relationships we have enjoyed with both organisations, but also deepen the understanding and enjoyment of the Royal Collection.’

Christopher Le Brun, President, Royal Academy of Arts, said, ‘Charles I is one of history’s greatest collectors, the Royal Collection is one of the world’s greatest collections and the Royal Academy’s galleries are amongst the finest in the world.  With such a combination, this exhibition provides the perfect launch for our 250th anniversary celebrations in 2018.’

Jonty Claypole, Director, BBC Arts, said, ‘The BBC is delighted to be working in partnership with Royal Collection Trust. The Royal Collection Season, including programmes announced today, will bring the treasures of the Collection to audiences across the UK and bring their extraordinary history to life.’


Charles I: King and Collector, Main Galleries, Royal Academy of Arts, 27 January – 15 April 2018

Charles II: Art & Power, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 8 December 2017 – 13 May 2018  


Partnership press release