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The Queen’s Pictures: the formation and display of the Royal Collection – five online talks by Desmond Shawe-Taylor

posted on 13/12/21


The British royal collection is the only princely collection not to have become the state museum of its principality. This means that it is still doing the job for which it was intended, but also that it is less well-known than its rivals. So, what would the collection – or at least one part of it, the paintings – look like if brought together under one roof? What job are the paintings doing?

This series of lectures will give an overview of the shape of the collection, where it can be seen today and what it has to offer. It will also show how it was formed, how it was displayed, how understood, and the impact it had on living artists, especially those commissioned to add to its riches. The collection reflects changing ideas of interior design, artistic theory, and the role of the monarch. It was also affected by a constant desire to project magnificence, to match rival dynasties and convey an ideal of royal life.

The story of the Royal collection is a crucial and lesser-known part of the story of art in Britain.

Desmond Shawe-Taylor has recently retired as Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures.

They take place every Monday from 7 February to 7 March at 4.30pm (GMT) and, including Q&A, will probably last just under an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (2 May 2022).

Register for the webinar series for £65


The talks 

1. The Arrival of the Renaissance – Henry VIII to Charles I (7th February 2022)

When Henry VIII ascended the throne in 1509, Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Ceiling. It took English collecting another hundred years to have anything to show of the glories of the Italian High Renaissance. This first lecture will pay tribute to Charles I, who formed one of Europe’s most important collections of Old Masters and employed the most sought-after moderns. It will tell of his triumphs – the acquisition of the Raphael tapestry cartoons and the Duke of Mantua’s collection – and of the collapse of his reign and sale of his collection.

2. Restoration & Revolution – England in the Age of Versailles 1660-1714 (14th February 2022)

Charles II had to start again from scratch. He sought firstly to reassemble his father’s collection and acquire similar works to fill the gaps; then to complete with his cousin, Louis XIV, with an ambitious building and decorating programme at Windsor Castle and Holyrood Palace. Just as Britain was aligning itself with the absolutist Continent, a series of revolutions occurred – in science, philosophy and politics – which set it permanently adrift. Art gradually adapted to a new idea of royalty.

3. Ruling a Free Nation; the early Georgians (21st February 2022)

The new Hanoverian dynasty arrived at the invitation of Parliament and ruled on its terms. The first four generations (Georges I–III and Frederick, Prince of Wales) came to prefer townhouses to palaces, dabbled in factional politics and the fashionable life of the town. They embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment, commissioned informal portraits and collected bright modern Italian paintings. They also supported the ideals of the ‘Grand Style’ – founding the Royal Academy in 1768 and commissioning high-minded history paintings.

4. The Great Joss and his Playthings: George IV (28th February 2022)

George IV spent lavishly on the fashionable life of the town and formed a painting collection recording his love of the turf, the theatre and ‘affairs of the heart’. The Old Masters were now appreciated as much for their fine technique as for their grand conception. Dutch paintings of merchants and peasants were fit for the prince, so long as they were the finest Rembrandts or Steens. George IV expressed royal grandeur with a fanciful and romantic extravagance, in Lawrence’s portraits, at Brighton Pavilion and the transformation of Windsor Castle.

5. Art and Idealism – Victoria and Albert (7th March 2022)

Queen Victoria used painting to help her to restore the prestige of the monarchy – recording every ceremony of her reign in ‘crowd-portraits’ and commissioning thousands of images of her family. At Osborne House, the royal couple enjoy a more ideal vision of art, mostly collected by Prince Albert and his art-history tutors. At Balmoral, art was used to celebrate Nature and the noble freedom of life in the Highlands. No royal collectors were as cultivated as Victoria and Albert; no part of the collection is now so despised; perhaps none has more surprises to offer. The series will conclude with a brief survey of the last century of collecting and the current philosophy of its management and display.

Register for the webinar series for £65

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.


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