The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse
19 March - 25 September 2005
The art collection formed by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother reflects her warm friendships with artists and her very personal response to a quality in works of art that she called 'the effect of magic'. Queen Elizabeth was an enthusiastic supporter of contemporary British artists of the early to mid-20th century and had a particular appreciation of the younger generation working outside the artistic establishment. This first exhibition of 73 watercolours and drawings from her collection has been selected to show the range of Queen Elizabeth's taste, embracing artists as diverse as Thomas Gainsborough and John Bratby.
From the first portrait of Queen Elizabeth as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon aged seven to watercolours marking the celebration of her 100th birthday, the exhibition offers a record of both private and official life. Among the portraits are evocative charcoal drawings by John Singer Sargent presented to Lady Elizabeth and the Duke of York (later King George VI) on their marriage in 1923. Other works depict events of personal and national significance, such as the Coronation in 1937, Victory Night in 1945 and the Funeral Procession of King George VI in 1952. Queen Elizabeth also acquired drawings with royal connections, such as the three sketches by Sir David Wilkie of Queen Victoria as a girl of twelve, preparatory studies for an oil painting also in her collection.
Queen Elizabeth had a lifelong interest in the landscape tradition. She formed a small collection of late 18th- and early 19th-century British watercolours and drawings, including examples by Thomas Gainsborough and John Varley. Other works reflect her taste for precise draughtsmanship and architectural subjects, such as Michael 'Angelo' Rooker's Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk and David Roberts's meticulous watercolour of the town hall at Ghent. Queen Elizabeth's interest in topography extended to views of her own residences - her childhood home, Glamis Castle; Birkhall in Aberdeenshire; Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, her home as Duchess of York and later as Queen Mother; Windsor Castle; Sandringham House, Norfolk; the Castle of Mey in Caithness; and the place most closely associated with her, Clarence House in London.
Like royal collectors of previous centuries, Queen Elizabeth relied upon well-informed friends and advisors, including the collector Sir Jasper Ridley and the writer Sir Osbert Sitwell. The most important figure in this respect was Kenneth Clark, Director of the National Gallery (1934-45) and Surveyor of the King's Pictures (1934-44). He encouraged her interest in contemporary British art and enlisted her support in its promotion during the Second World War through projects such as Recording Britain. Queen Elizabeth purchased a number of works from wartime charity auctions and from organisations such as the Civil Defence Artists, including On Leave, a pastel by William Dring, an Official War Artist. Shortly after the War she acquired several watercolours by the Australian artist Norma Bull of London during the Blitz.
Arising directly from the Recording Britain project, the most important commission instigated by Queen Elizabeth was the sequence of watercolours of Windsor Castle and its surrounding parkland by John Piper. It was intended both to create a record of the Castle in case of bomb damage and to provide work and publicity for a contemporary artist. The project consciously looked to the series created by Paul and Thomas Sandby in the reign of George III, including the views of Windsor Castle and the Deputy Ranger's House (later Royal Lodge) in the exhibition. The brooding quality of Piper's watercolours, executed between 1941 and 1944, caused a certain amount of wry comment - King George VI remarked to the artist, 'You seem to have very bad luck with your weather'.
Like many artists, Piper became a personal friend and in later years presented Queen Elizabeth with the ethereal Scuola and Chiesa di San Rocco, Venice and the colourful Sandringham House. Queen Elizabeth's long-standing friendship with the artist Augustus John, which began when she sat for a portrait during the War, is represented in the exhibition by the graceful pencil drawings of his mistress Dorelia and son Robin.
The exhibition includes personal letters to Queen Elizabeth from Kenneth Clark, John Piper, Augustus John, and the illustrator and stage designer Rex Whistler. Her friend Sir Hugh Casson, President of the Royal Academy 1976-84, gave her many informal watercolours of her life at home, including The Saloon, Royal Lodge and Tea time, Sandringham. Another friend was the Norfolk painter Edward Seago, who presented her with a picture each year on her birthday and at Christmas; three of his watercolours are included in the exhibition. The 'Kitchen Sink School' artist John Bratby, who met Queen Elizabeth when she agreed to sit for a portrait in 1978, presented her with a lively view of Venice after he had read of her first visit to the city in 1984.
Many other works entered Queen Elizabeth's collection as gifts from official organisations. She was created Patron of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1947 and made a number of purchases from their exhibitions, including Dorset Quarry by Arthur Henderson Hall in 1961. She continued to collect and to take great pleasure in art throughout her life, and on her 100th birthday the Royal Household presented her with a specially commissioned watercolour by Hugh Buchanan of her desks at Royal Lodge.
The exhibition will also be shown at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, from June to October 2006.
Further information and photographs are available from Public Relations
and Marketing, the Royal Collection, telephone: 020 7839 1377,
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Images are also available from the Royal Collection's folder in the Arts section on PA's Picselect at www.picselect.com or through the PA bulletin board.