Watercolours and Drawings from the Collection of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Release date: 
Tuesday, 4 January 2005

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: press@royalcollection.org.uk.  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.