The building that originally stood on the site of the current Queen’s Gallery was designed by John Nash as one of Buckingham Palace’s three identical conservatories or pavilions in the form of Ionic temples. It was constructed on the south-west corner of the Palace, facing the garden, and was completed in 1831. The conservatory was converted into a private chapel for Queen Victoria in 1843, but destroyed in an air raid in 1940. At the suggestion of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, it was redeveloped as a gallery for the Royal Collection in 1962.
In 1997 a limited competition was held for the appointment of an architect to expand and modernise the Gallery as a celebration of The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. John Simpson & Partners were appointed project architects in 1998. Their brief was to provide a new entrance, to provide state-of-the-art environmental controls, to improve physical access and public services, and to provide a more flexible and intelligible series of exhibition spaces, allowing a greater number and wider variety of works to be shown.
John Simpson’s design for the new entrance portico uses the Doric order, similar to that employed by John Nash in the Quadrangle of Buckingham Palace. The entrance hall provides a space for visitors to gather before making their way to the galleries and activity areas on the level above. High on either side are two friezes (symbolising the reign of The Queen) and four relief panels (representing the Patron Saints of the United Kingdom) by the Scottish sculptor, Alexander Stoddart. Framing the entrance to the exhibition areas, are two free-standing winged figures by Stoddart. Narrative figured friezes form an important part of John Nash’s early 19th-century Palace interiors, such as those by Thomas Stothard in the Throne Room, Grand Staircase and Blue Drawing Room, and on the garden front by Richard Westmacott.
The entrance hall’s robust rusticated style contrasts with the interior of the stair hall beyond, which is polychromatic and ornate. Here the ceiling is painted in red and green anthemion patterns above Ionic columns and pilasters in green scagliola.
Upstairs John Simpson’s design provided three-and-a-half times as much display space as before. The rooms - the Pennethorne Gallery, the Nash Gallery and the Chambers Gallery - can be used in a variety of combinations for special exhibitions. The Nash Gallery formed the major part of the original Queen’s Gallery of the 1960s, but was entirely rebuilt internally. Simpson designed it to recall some of the splendour of Nash’s long-lost gallery interiors, such as the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace and Nash’s own gallery on Regent Street.
The £20-million expansion of The Queen’s Gallery was the most significant addition to Buckingham Palace in 150 years. The project was funded entirely by the Royal Collection through public admissions to the official residences of The Queen (Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse) and through associated retail activities. The project involved stone masons, wood carvers, fibrous plaster and scagliola workers, copper and bronze workers, specialist joiners, blacksmiths, specialist painters and cabinet-makers.
The Queen’s Gallery was opened by Her Majesty The Queen in May 2002, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations. It hosts a programme of changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.