Art, Passion & Power: The Story of the Royal Collection (2018) s01e04 Episode Script

Modern Times

If you want to see something truly
..come in closer.
This is the Mosaic Egg.
A Faberge Egg,
one of the most remarkable,
one of the most precious objects in
the entire Royal Collection.
A lace-like structure of astonishing
Sapphires, diamonds, seed pearls.
An extraordinary thing.
This egg was made in 1914, at a time
when the British Royal family was
the Russian imperial dynasty.
But while the British monarchy has
the reign and life of Tsar Nicholas
II was brutally cut short.
He, and his family, executed in the
aftermath of the Russian Revolution.
So this egg is a cautionary object.
An egg is a fragile thing.
So, too, is a monarchy in the 20th
And monarchs only survive if they
adapt and change.
In this final episode of the series,
I'm exploring the last
century-and-a-half of the Royal
when women took charge.
From Victoria to Elizabeth II,
these queens and queen consorts have
used art to steer the monarchy
through times of crisis and
turbulent change.
Here's how they navigated the age of
..and the advent of mass
She is definitely trying to control
how people perceive her.
Through their collecting, they've
expressed solidarity with a
broken nation.
And displayed defiance under threat.
The overwhelming impression, for me,
is one of foreboding.
The stormy mentality of siege.
In modern times, the Royal
Collection survived a calamitous
fire and risen
from the ashes as palace doors have
opened to more people
than ever before.
And it's still growing, still being
added to.
I have the sense that you very much
like a project, sir.
I do, rather. Oh, yes.
Very important.
And I do think that if you trace the
development of the Royal Collection
during that 100 years and more,
what you see very clearly is the
determined emergence
of a modern monarchy.
I've spent a year exploring the
Royal Collection.
Over a million works of art and
decorative objects owned by the
in her official role as monarch.
The cream of the collection's mostly
on display,
on the walls and ceilings of some of
Britain's most-visited palaces.
But away from the public gaze there
are lesser-known works.
In St James's Palace there are
paintings by household names in
Queen Victoria's time,
who've since fallen out of fashion.
And then there are reminders of
things that we'd rather forget.
Now, right from the start of Queen
Victoria's reign,
the objects and the images that came
into the Royal Collection reflected
the extraordinary growth of British
influence overseas.
Above all, empire in India.
It wasn't always a pretty story.
This billboard-sized canvas by the
artist Edward Armitage isn't just
one of Victoria's larger purchases.
It's also possibly her most
A depiction of the 1843 Battle of
Meeanee when British troops seized
the province of Sindh in what is now
Now, British forces were outnumbered
ten to one but their victory was a
foregone conclusion.
They had vastly superior
organisation and weaponry.
The armies of the Amirs of Sindh
lost 6,000 men.
British casualties were fewer than
300 dead and wounded.
It wasn't so much a battle, as a
Thackeray, the novelist, author of
Vanity Fair, detested this picture.
He thought it was immoral, an
encouragement to murder.
He particularly detested that
The phlegmatic infantryman
..doing away with his enemy,
grinding his bayonet into his body.
Thackeray thought it looks as though
he's trying to torture him at the
moment of killing him.
And he was even more appalled when
the man next to him, looking up at
the picture, approvingly said,
"He's giving him his gruel."
So why did Victoria buy this work?
I suspect it's to do with the way a
rather shabby battle's been
as an epic struggle to be remembered
down the ages.
The Sindhi fighters, noble defenders
of a tragically lost cause.
Well, I think that's what Victoria
loved about the painting.
She liked the way that Armitage had
elevated a real event and made it
feel like
part of history with a capital H.
Destiny with a capital D.
She liked to feel that she was both
a witness to and a participant in
..the great forward march of
the great forward march of the
British Empire.
British India would play a great
part in Victoria's own destiny.
In the later 19th century, a
political project was put in place
to bind the
people of India closer to their
British overlords.
So, Queen Victoria and her family
became the
personable faces of empire.
As part of this, a major event took
place in 1875,
a royal tour of India.
Not by Victoria herself, but her
eldest son,
the affable Albert Edward,
Prince of Wales.
I've come to Leicester's New Walk
Museum and Art Gallery to discover
more about his four-month visit.
Travelling by boat, train,
carriage and elephant to areas that
Britain controlled directly
or through local rulers.
It was the custom in India to
present honoured guests with
magnificent presents and for them to
respond in kind.
And the Prince's inner circle feared
a terrible escalation,
the sort of thing that happens at
Christmas when someone's given you
something that you can't afford to
So, they sent out instructions -
nothing too magnificent,
nothing too special, no gold, no
silver, no jewellery.
Arms and armour, yes, but please,
please, rein it in.
Those supposedly modest gifts are
now in the Royal Collection.
I'm seeing them as they're prepared
for a touring exhibition by curator
Kajal Meghani.
So, Kajal, looking at the case,
I'd have to say, I don't think that
they did rein it in, did they?
Not at all. I think there's an
element of trying to impress
Albert Edward,
Prince of Wales. But also,
it is this traditional aspect of
Indian diplomacy.
This is an incredible dagger that
was presented by the Maharajah of
Mangal Singh.
And the blade has a channel that's
been drilled into it,
which has been filled with loose
pearls that move
as you tilt the dagger.
You'd want to be careful with that,
it's pretty sharp, isn't it?
Yes. All these weapons were designed
to be functional
but also very, very beautiful.
Well, maybe we should look at
something a little bit less lethal.
Oh, this is an interesting case.
I love these things.
So, they're late-18th-century brass
military figures that were
commissioned by the
Raja of Pithapuram.
And the legend attached to these
figures were that he should review
his troops daily.
So they're individually modelled and
they represent all the sort of
different members that would be
within his army.
Ah! So he couldn't actually
inspect his whole army
every day but he had a sort of chess
set made of his army, out of bronze.
Exactly. So he's got soldiers on
he's got a wonderful African
mercenary armed with a blunderbuss.
The gifts that were presented, they
represent a snapshot of time, place,
also the different types of
craftsmanship that were being
practised on the
subcontinent during this period.
I'm smiling because Kajal's been
very, very kind.
I asked, not thinking that you would
be able to,
asked if we could actually have this
out of the case.
And you agreed and here it is.
What a fantastic thing!
This is one of the star objects of
our exhibition
because the level of craftsmanship
is astounding.
You're not kidding.
I think this is one of your
favourites, too.
This is one of my favourites. Yeah.
It's an inkwell. It is.
It's got a pen, that's the mast
Oh, wow.
And if you look closely, there's an
inscription or a dedication to
the Prince of Wales, in English,
from the Maharajah of Benares.
So, the Maharajah of Benares on the
Yes, he's the donor of this gift,
so the Prince actually travelled
down the River Ganges
on a similar
barge in January 1876.
How fantastic.
The deck comes off to reveal two
All enamelled, as well.
Enamelled. Got a pair of scissors
and a penknife, too.
Oh! It's just wonderful.
You sort of wonder if it would
I'm not suggesting Don't do that!
No, no!
Pen-boat diplomacy, you might say.
The Prince's visit was hailed as a
great success and soon after,
Victoria was made Empress of India.
The proclamation, the first
Delhi Durbar,
took place on the 1st of January
An enormous piece of theatre as well
as a cynical bit of empire politics.
But the thing about Victoria is that
she was never cynical.
The woman who'd purchased bloody
paintings of conquest really would
take her new role to heart.
For the rest of her life,
India would be
a place of fascination for Victoria.
And while she never visited India
she did encounter its people and its
culture through art.
India's Empress held court at
Osborne House on the Isle of Wight,
gamely taking lessons in Hindustani
from her Indian attendants.
And in a new wing, the Durbar Room,
a plaster and papier-mache
this was Victoria's own personal
portal to the subcontinent -
And in an adjacent corridor, one of
her most surprising commissions,
from the Austrian artist
Rudolf Swoboda.
She asks Swoboda to spend all of two
years in the subcontinent,
painting a representative
cross-section of the population.
And he painted, one by one, Indians
who struck his attention,
whom he found interesting.
He tried not to choose them for
wealth or high status or low status.
He tried to be very, very
And they're painted with tremendous
brio and panache.
That gentleman up there,
the man with the white turban and
the exploding star-shaped beard.
He was probably painted in about 40
so you have this wonderful
A kind of slowed-down version of
photographic immediacy.
And what's really striking and
unusual about them from a
19th-century perspective
is that there is very,
very little sense of that rather
repulsive imperialist set of
preconceptions about people,
that people are specimens, if
you like.
There's none of that here. No.
These people, exotic though they may
have seemed to 19th-century
Englishmen, are depicted and
respected, I think,
They simply say,
well, here they are.
It seems to me there was quite a
step change in Victoria's thinking.
Becoming more outward-looking,
choosing to spend the winter of her
days surrounded by these faces.
I have to say, I think there's
something rather cheering about her
capacity for change.
But Victoria's eyes weren't just on
She wanted to be Empress of Europe,
as well.
Over the years, she'd manoeuvred her
children and grandchildren into a
series of strategic marriages with
the other great royal houses.
In Windsor Castle's grand corridor
there's a painting by Laurits Tuxen,
of what Victoria called her
"royal mob."
Pictures can be time machines.
This one certainly is.
It's 1887, it's Windsor Castle, and
it's Queen Victoria's Jubilee.
Victoria sits in the centre of the
..surrounded by her children and by
her larger family.
For although these are, in effect,
the assembled crowned heads of
everyone in the room is related to
her either by descent or by
The artist casts a rosy glow over it
A candelabra glimmers in an
antechamber beyond.
Two ladies playing the piano.
But look more closely
and you soon begin to hear false
This is Princess Alexandra, a Dane.
She faces her husband,
the future Edward VII, but look how
far away she is from him,
Frederick, Crown Prince of Prussia.
She insisted to the artist that she
would not be painted anywhere near
because of the traumatic events of
The war between Prussia and Denmark,
during which,
in the space of just a few hours,
the Prussian armies decimated an
entire young generation of Danes,
and condemned her nation to defeat.
And there are portents of what's to
Look, in this corner,
that's the man we now know as the
Wilhelm II,
who would take Germany into the
First World War.
So, yes,
it's a family celebration, but it's
also a picture of just how
just how volatile, just how
explosive the world was
as it entered the 20th century.
Of this next generation,
I think it was the glamorous Danish
Princess of Wales, Alexandra,
who did most to bring the monarchy
into the modern age.
The best place to encounter her is
at the top of a very steep set of
stairs in Windsor's Round Tower.
Now, here's the thing. Up there
you'll find the royal archives.
Thousands upon thousands of
But it's also where they keep all of
the photographs in the
Royal Collection, one of the world's
greatest collections of photography.
450,000 images.
So, let's go and have a look.
Onward and upward!
The photographic collection was
founded by Victoria and Albert.
But in the later 19th century,
photography belonged to the young.
And Alexandra, in particular,
understood how royalty could use
this new form
of image-making to its own
Royal Collection Trust's Sophie
Gordon is showing me how Alexandra
embraced the medium in front of the
lens and behind it.
These portraits, which show the
Princess of Wales in 1867
Gosh, she looks like a
Pre-Raphaelite lady with her long
Yes, it's the long hair that makes
this a really unusual portrait.
It was taken during her recovery
from an illness that she had around
the time of the birth of her third
child, Princess Louise.
And there was a lot of public
concern about her health.
And so these photographs were issued
to show that she was on the way to
good health. I'm not an expert but
even I know about this one.
Because this is such a famous image.
It was one of the most famous
photographs in the 19th century.
It shows Princess Alexandra with her
child, Princess Louise, on her back.
It's remarkably relaxed, isn't it?
Yeah. It's just showing someone
who's playful,
who's in touch with her emotions,
who wants to play with her child.
It's completely unprecedented,
in how a member of the Royal family
is being presented here.
So, she is definitely trying to
control how people perceive her.
Alexandra was quirkily creative,
arranging photographs into
Some are very Monty Python,
although you'd have to be part of
her gang to get the joke.
Who, I wonder, is this spider,
trapping these poor ladies in his
But with the introduction of
lightweight portable cameras in the
Alexandra became a photographer in
her own right.
Oh, wow.
And you can immediately see the sort
of photographs that she's producing.
There's a big emphasis in her work
on contrasting light and dark and
the interplay of shadows, for
example, in different textures.
And she seems to be particularly
drawn to seascapes.
Yes, she's
quite the romantic, isn't she?
It's quite surprising, really.
It's in keeping with a
movement that was happening in
photography at
the end of the 19th century,
the Pictorialist movement,
where there is this great emphasis
on contrasting light
and dark and shadow.
And it's part of a bigger move to
really establish photography as an
art form in its own right.
And they're interestingly printed on
matte paper.
Yes. You could almost imagine that
the photographic ink has been
like a watercolour.
That is fantastic, isn't it?
And that speaks to me of her
commitment to be a photographer
because to
take a picture like that as the
storm clouds whip in off the
North Sea
and the boat begins to heave and the
swell begins to rise,
you've really got to want to take a
She was clearly determined.
She's a fascinating character.
When she wasn't behind the lens,
Queen Alexandra, as she was from
was the very embodiment of turn-of-
the-century elegance,
presiding over a final gilded age of
European royalty that blossomed
before the First World War.
Her sister, Dagmar, had married into
Russia's Romanov dynasty.
Mother of Tsar Nicholas II,
Dagmar introduced Alexandra to the
work of Russian jeweller
Peter Carl Faberge,
whose confections began to be
enthusiastically stockpiled by the
British Royal family.
Royal Collection Trust's
Caroline De Guitaut
is showing me a few extraordinary
What a treat you've got
in store for me.
How amazing.
I've got a few treats for you to
look at. Oh!
These are amongst the most complex
of the Faberge pieces that were
produced by Carl Faberge and his
And that's because they incorporate
so many different techniques.
You have the stone carving, which is
very much a strong tradition in the
Russian decorative arts.
And so here you have what appears to
be a vase full of water.
It looks as though we're looking
through water.
And the stem is refracted through
that water.
But actually, this is solid rock
How amazing. It's the goldsmith
working in defiance of time decay.
He's made the lily of the valley
last for ever.
Exactly, yes. And I recognise this
middle one because I go out picking
rowan berries, they make very good
Very good with a bit of beef or a
bit of venison.
But that is fantastic.
I think what's so interesting about
these, they're trying so hard to be
entirely naturalistic,
so you can see, if you look closely,
that the berries, in certain cases,
there's a slight variation in the
Some of them are dark, they're
starting to shrivel,
but of course he still wants us to
remember that these are made of
solid materials. This is nephrite,
it's wafer-thin.
This is stone.
This is stone. And this is gold.
I'm going to repeat that.
This is stone. He's even understood
the way in which the rowan's leaves
are shiny on the front.
Exactly. But they're not shiny on
the back. No, they're dull. They've
got this
slight dullness. And that must be
deliberate, all deliberate. Oh,
They're not as famous as Faberge's
eggs but I think
they're every bit as special,
perhaps even more miraculous.
Alexandra's passion for Faberge was
Her children and husband Edward VII
were also collectors.
And the astute Faberge opened a
branch in London to capitalise on
his royal clientele.
And in 1907, Faberge took an order
from the King for a menagerie of
sculptures based on the animals at
Queen Alexandra loved the animals.
She just enjoyed their charm and
their whimsical nature.
They have real personality.
Like this dormouse carved from a
beautiful piece of agate.
His eyes are made of little
cabochon sapphires.
He's got platinum whiskers and he's
actually chewing on gold straws.
A dormouse with cabochon sapphire
Eating gold.
Platinum whiskers.
He's the king of the dormouse world.
You can see why Queen Alexandra
liked these,
and she would keep them in
two cabinets
entirely designed for her
Faberge collection
in the drawing room at
Sandringham House.
And these would be specially lit up
with electric light, every evening,
so that the house guests of the King
and Queen could see and admire this
collection. But I suppose, in a way,
there's always a slight hint of
melancholy when one looks at these
objects because they're all, really,
just before, or a lot of them, just
before the First World War.
The peace before the fall.
Yes. It's a last sort of great
flowering of this sort of slightly
frivolous tradition.
Neither the Russian Imperial family
nor the Faberge firm would survive
the wars and revolutions now
hurtling over the horizon.
One reason that the British monarchy
endured is that under the new King,
Alexandra's son, George V, they
dramatically changed course.
During the First World War, the
dynasty changed their name
to the almost suburban-sounding
House of Windsor.
From now on, the British
monarchy would be practical,
down-to-earth, on hand to help.
Much of this transformation can be
traced to George V's wife,
the indomitable Queen Mary.
Within days of war being declared,
Mary was commandeering thousands of
volunteers from her needlework guild
to create socks,
belts and shirts for the troops.
And here in St James's Palace,
the vast state apartments were
commandeered as a depot for poor
And then there were the hospital
visits during which Mary, in
insisted on spending time with the
most-injured soldiers.
The normally phlegmatic George
admitted that he found the whole
experience deeply distressing but
duty had to be done.
One of the great treasures of the
modern Royal Collection was made in
part to thank the Queen for this
service and steadfastness during the
Great War.
A new royal resident for a new age.
Such was the affection for Queen
that when Princess Marie-Louise,
her childhood friend, suggested that
as a gesture of thanks,
a great doll's house should be
created and presented as a gift to
the response was overwhelming.
More than 1,000 people, something
like 1,500 different people,
and companies, collaborated to
create the interior.
Door-makers, marble cutters,
painters, writers.
Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens created
a miniature royal townhouse
complete in every detail.
As a result, it's almost a
three-dimensional archive of British
craftsmanship in the 1920s.
Everything in it might be small but
it's as real as it possibly can be.
So, for example, the shotguns.
Even though they're only that long,
they could be broken,
loaded and fired.
There's real champagne in those
champagne bottles.
And the library is really something
Just look at the desks.
You've got miniature,
perfectly readable copies of the
But the books themselves are the
real wonder of this library because
each one is a proper miniature book.
And lots of them were created
specially by the leading authors of
the day.
So, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a new
Sherlock Holmes story.
It really is something absolutely
Queen Elizabeth over the central
Henry VIII, lurking in the wings.
So what significance should we find
in this extraordinary object?
What does it symbolise?
What does it mean?
Well, I think the easy answer is to
say that it's the perfect emblem of
the modern monarchy, so reduced in
its powers,
so reduced in its ambitions.
After all, once upon a time,
great palaces were brought into
being to serve the monarch.
Great paintings by van Dyck or by
were created to glorify king or
Now's just a doll's house,
and the paintings it contains the
size of postage stamps.
Everything shrunk to the scale of
But this doll's house is also the
perfect emblem for Mary herself.
She was a queen who delighted in the
She adored little things, and she
liked having a lot of them.
Born into minor European royalty,
she attributed her love of art to
her father, the Duke of Teck.
He'd been on the edge of bankruptcy
and had never been able to collect.
His daughter, once she was queen,
and she earned a reputation as a
royal magpie,
swooping in and snaffling up
bargains around the antique shops of
She makes a cameo appearance in
Mrs Dalloway,
Virginia Woolf's novel of London in
the 1920s.
A car containing a person of very
great importance is seen drawing up
to a shop.
"Yet rumours were at once in
circulation from the middle of Bond
Street to
"Oxford Street, passing invisibly,
inaudibly, like a cloud.
"Was it the Queen in there?
"The Queen going shopping?"
In keeping with the monarchy's new
sober image,
Queen Mary's tastes were discreet,
neat and sweet,
and her acquisitions are sprinkled
around the royal palaces like
sugar crystals.
She was fascinated with intricate
craftsmanship and became a
self-taught expert on Asian
decorative arts.
A cabinet in a tucked-away anteroom
at Buckingham Palace is filled with
her collection of jade.
And just look at this nephrite brush
rest, carved like a canal bridge.
She had ancestors in the British
Royal family and sometimes bought
they'd once owned.
Mary, Queen of Scots's pomander, a
Tudor air freshener.
Or a Maundy purse of Queen Anne's.
The best place to see Mary's
collection is Frogmore House.
A mile from Windsor Castle,
Frogmore has been in royal hands for
three centuries.
Some of the rooms are still
filled with Mary's collections and
are being
studied by Royal Collection Trust's
Kathryn Jones.
So this is very much Queen Mary's
and this is where she kept it most
so it's very much in her style.
You can see this room, actually, is
It glories in the name of the Black
Museum, and you can see why.
She's gathered together all her
particular interests in lacquer and
papier-mache and brought it all
together in one place,
and that's very much Queen Mary's
style, putting like with like. Yeah.
And I think, particularly, objects
that have a royal connotation,
particularly to do with royal
She is very keen to fill in any gaps
that might be missing.
For example, this object here,
which has a lovely view of old
Balmoral before Prince Albert
redesigned it, I'm surepart of
the reason she wanted to acquire it
was because
it had that depiction on it.
Oh, I see, "We can never revisit old
Balmoral, because Albert changed it,
"but we can, in the form of looking
at this box." Exactly.
Do you think there's an element of
making up for her childhood, you
as the daughter of a rather
down-on-his-luck aristocrat, she's
been moved around a lot,
almost never able
to feel that she was at home, or to
collect things around herself?
Do you think there's an element of
sort of almost psychological
compensation about this?
Yeah, absolutely, definitely.
I think that she is very keen to
list every single object that comes
into her collection, and she also
leaves notes with everything,
and I can show you quite a good
example of
So she doesn't want just to have it,
she wants to know that she's got it,
and she wants to know where it is.
And where it's come from.
And this is in her own handwriting,
you can see she's labelled it,
"For the Frogmore collection," where
it's come from, even the date,
so that in future, people will know
exactly what this object is.
And she's written on the back of the
Windsor Castle note card,
"Old Balmoral Castle."
Exactly, although it may seem
difficult to believe,
there is actually an element of
thrift to her acquisitions.
She buys a lot at auction,
and we know from her correspondence
that when it goes above a certain
price, she will drop out and not
acquire it,
and you can sense her disappointment
sometimes when she's lost a lot that
she was very keen to acquire.
But she knows that she's on a budget
and she's not going to exceed that.
My own view is that it's
conspicuously modest consumption.
Yes. And she called herself and
George V
.."Darby and Joan". I mean, that
sort of classic domestic monarchy,
as it were. So I think, you
that very much sums up what she's
trying to do.
George V didn't share his wife's
passion for art.
But at the very end of his reign,
he made a dramatic intervention that
would have far-reaching consequences
for the Royal Collection.
Its 7,000 paintings were in dire
need of some TLC.
So a request went out to
Kenneth Clark,
the wunderkind director of the
National Gallery,
to take a second job as Surveyor of
the King's Pictures.
When Clark turned the post down,
George V angrily confronted him.
"Why won't you take the job?"
"Because, sir, I don't think I'll
have the time to do it."
"Why not?!" "Well, sir, the pictures
"the pictures will need attention."
"Nothing wrong with the pictures!
What else?"
"Public letters, people want
information about the paintings.
"I'll have to reply to them."
"Don't answer them!"
Now, whether Clark entirely believed
the King about the condition of the
pictures and whether he entirely
felt it appropriate not to answer
from the public, this was still the
kind of offer you can't refuse.
He took the job.
Contrary to what the King had said,
Clark wrote that the collection had
been "very much let down" in the
last 100 years and initiated a
comprehensive programme
of cleaning and conservation.
He was just getting going when
George VI came to the throne in
The new queen consort was Queen
remembered latterly as the Queen
Clark encouraged her interest in
helping to turn her into the most
daring royal collector
of the 20th century.
When you visit her home, Clarence
you can see that Queen Elizabeth was
quietly radical in her tastes,
building up a rather surprising
collection of contemporary British
Over here, we've got her first
serious acquisition,
a picture called
When Homer Nods by Augustus John.
I think it's a bit of a tease.
It's actually a portrait of George
Bernard Shaw,
who was hardly Homer.
And I think the point was that
George Bernard Shaw talked so much,
you could only get a portrait of him
when he fell asleep,
and that's what Augustus John
has done.
He's waited for him to nod off.
Below, you've got Duncan Grant, a
member of the Bloomsbury Group.
On this side, a small landscape by
Lowry, painted in the mid-1940s.
And above, a very daring
an extremely informal portrait of
her father-in-law, George V,
with his racing manager, painted by,
for me,
the greatest British artist of the
first half of the 20th century -
Walter Richard Sickert.
It's one of the pictures that he
painted later in life, based on
press photographs. Extremely
avant-garde, very informal.
Over the mantelpiece,
another painting by Sickert,
and it shows two characters at a
fancy dress ball.
It was almost certainly painted on
the basis of an illustration in a
magazine. This is Sickert pushing
almost towards Andy Warhol.
It's only in relatively recent
years that Sickert's later pictures
have come
into critical favour and changed
hands for a lot of money,
so she was really ahead of her time
in buying that work of art.
In fact, such was her interest in
cutting-edge British art that it
the public imagination. The Times
ran a leader saying,
"The Queen has decided that
contemporary British art matters."
George VI's reign is defined by the
Second World War,
and those traumatic years are
writ large in the works the Queen
The Landscape Of The Vernal Equinox
by Paul Nash, of 1943 -
Buckingham Palace was bombed in
September 1940.
Queen Elizabeth was defiant.
"Now I can look the East End in the
face," she said.
After that, the family would
overnight at Windsor Castle,
returning to London during the day.
But Windsor itself was under threat.
In fact, in November 1940,
night-watchers on the battlements
here saw a stream of German planes
passing overhead.
The castle was under threat.
There was a real danger it might be
damaged or destroyed.
The Queen decided that she
would preserve the castle for ever -
on paper.
She commissioned the artist John
Piper to record "Fortress Windsor"
at its darkest hour.
In September 1941,
Piper was let in and given freedom
to roam wherever he wanted.
Pretty soon, he began ascending
He was after vantage points, views.
And it was quite a daredevil task,
as the winter was coming in,
but even five inches of January snow
didn't put him off.
Now, one of the first places he came
to was here,
the roof of medieval St George's
and this was the view that he chose
to paint the great Round Tower of
the castle, framed by a perspective
of Gothic turrets and medieval roof.
This is the most ambitious royal
commission of the 20th century.
The Queen Mother hung the entire set
of 26 images at Clarence House,
The overwhelming impression, for me,
is one of foreboding -
a palpable sense of threat.
Yes, Piper has captured the
monumentality of Windsor Castle,
You can feel his anxiety trembling
in the air.
And look at the way he's depicted
the castle,
as a series of depopulated
There's hardly a figure to be seen
in these images.
It's almost as if a little bit of
surrealism has worked its way into
his blood.
My favourite remark - I think it was
tongue-in-cheek -
was made by George VI himself, who
said, "Gosh,
"you've had terribly bad luck with
the weather, haven't you, dear
Of course, he knew perfectly well
the trouble wasn't with the real
weather, but the weather of the
national psyche -
the stormy mentality of siege.
George VI and Elizabeth had seen the
nation through the war,
but it was their daughter, Queen
Elizabeth II,
who'd see Britain through the peace.
She was destined to be the most
photographed woman in the world,
and the first photographer to
capture her as queen was a woman,
society portraitist Dorothy Wilding.
In 59 images, using high-key
lighting and a plain background,
Wilding invented a new look for a
new queen,
perfectly poised between glamour and
Handwritten comments on the proofs
tell us where these images were
going -
embassies, banknotes and stamps.
Wilding's stamps, miniatures for a
new Elizabethan age,
were in circulation till the 1970s.
Elizabeth II inherited a collection
that was still looked on as a
private royal domain.
In 1962, this began to change, with
the opening of the Queen's Gallery.
Placed at the side of Buckingham
the gallery was the brainchild of
Prince Philip.
Expanded in the 21st century,
it's now a chance for anyone to see
the collection's masterpieces
up close - as art, not palace decor.
In this space, in this wonderful
suite of galleries, you can,
pretty much any day of the year,
come and see a wonderful,
permanently rotating series of
At the moment, it's Canaletto.
Next month, it might be Rubens.
Next year, it might be Leonardo da
Vinci's drawings.
In fact, I would say that the
opening of the Queen's Gallery in
really marked a profound shift in
orientation from
the Royal Collection, and ever since
that time, its face has turned more
and more and more towards the
general public.
I think that's been the direction of
travel during Elizabeth II's reign.
Out in the main palaces, the focus
was on displaying the royal
The public areas of Hampton Court
and Windsor Castle
were comprehensively rearranged.
This was an era that was
conservative in the literal sense,
securing the existing collection.
The days when royalty splashed
out on big statement works of art
were long gone.
For her measured purchases,
the Queen often depended on the
advice of her surveyors,
who steered her toward works with a
link to the monarchy.
Blanchet's portrait of
the Young Pretender.
This oil sketch by van Dyck, for one
of the collection's treasures.
But it was the Queen herself who
made the final decision,
as with the revival of a rather
wonderful portrait series of people
who've made outstanding
contributions to public life.
With Royal Collection Trust's Rosie
I'm meeting members of the
prestigious Order of Merit.
The tradition of commissioning
portraits of members of the Order of
fell into abeyance with the outbreak
of the First World War,
but it was revived again in 1987,
revived by the Queen,
and the tradition has continued ever
That's fantastic. The Queen herself
wanted to revive having them
portrayed. Yes, absolutely,
and each of the portraits will be
approved by the Queen personally.
I'll tell you what it makes me think
of, the National Portrait Gallery.
It's almost as if there is another
National Portrait Gallery now,
but it's within the Royal
and it's just of this very select
group of individuals.
The Graham Greene is a really good
portrait, isn't it?
Yeah, it's full of character.
I think he's just had his lunch,
he's a little bit drunk,
and he's not in a very good mood, he
doesn't want to sit for Humphrey
but that is all very Graham Greene,
isn't it?
This is just pencil, is it?
It's just pencil. A bit of smudging
going on.
Yeah. He has erased some areas.
That ear is really good, as well -
that's a right specimen!
It's a series that continues into
the present.
David Hockney submitted his own
self-portrait, made with an iPad.
And here's Ben Sullivan's even more
recent depiction of the
engineer Ann Dowling.
It's like a scientific
It's very precise and almost
You almost can imagine a bell jar
being placed over her,
and she'd be left there for ever as
an exhibit.
Elizabeth II's stewardship of the
Royal Collection might well have
carried on at its steady pace.
But when disaster struck Windsor
Castle in the early 1990s,
everything changed.
In 1992, this space was the Queen's
private chapel.
On this wall, its altar,
framed by two very high
floor-to-ceiling curtains.
a spotlight had been placed
fractionally too close to one of
those curtains, and over the months,
it had dried the material to the
point where
it had become like tinder.
Then, on the morning of the 20th of
November, 11.15am,
a group of conservators were here
looking after some pictures that had
been temporarily stored in the room,
when they smelt burning.
They investigated, could find
but within two minutes they saw
flames from the top of that curtain.
They ran to get help, but by the
time the fire crews arrived,
the building was already ablaze.
For 15 hours, more than 200
firefighters fought the flames.
A rescue operation began
By an astonishing stroke of luck,
most of the objects from the burned
rooms were already in store
because of restoration work,
and very little from the Royal
Collection was actually lost.
But significant parts of the
historic fabric of the castle were
Restoration isn't cheap.
In fact, it cost £37 million.
Debate raged. Who was going to pay?
The Queen agreed that there would be
no additional cost to the taxpayer.
So with the castle under repair,
Buckingham Palace was opened during
the summer for the first time, to
raise money.
But this additional cash didn't just
go to repairing Windsor.
From 1993,
income from visitor admissions
went to a new charitable trust
tasked with looking after the
Its director is Jonathan Marsden.
The creation of the charitable trust
in 1993, has meant that all the
revenues from the visitors to
Windsor and the Queen's other
official residences are put into
this trust,
which then spends the money on all
the things that help preserve and
present the collection as widely as
So it's those people,
they actually pay for everything
that you and the staff do.
That's right. You know, we have got
now what are really now museum-scale
conservation teams,
publishing teams,
all the disciplines you would expect
to find in a large museum,
which simply didn't exist in-house
25 years ago.
How would you say it's altered
the way the Royal Collection is
thought of,
the way it's run, its day-to-day
We've kind of begun to apply a sort
of quasi-museum approach to it.
It isn't a museum, none of these
palaces are museums,
but we've tried to classify
the collection, to record it in a
museum-y way,
and present it in that way.
But it is every single thing in
every palace. That is the
Buckingham Palace is still packed
every summer.
What started as a stopgap cash
raiser has created one of the most
popular tourist attractions in all
of Britain.
All this is great PR for brand
but it also helps to fund a royal
art empire of galleries and
conservation studios for painting
and the decorative arts.
For the last century-and-a-half,
royal collectors, mostly women,
have turned to art at moments of
adversity or threat.
But who could have predicted that a
queen known for her love of
would urge the Royal Collection over
one of the stiffest obstacles
it's ever had to face?
But has there been a loss alongside
the gains?
With the modern focus on
conservation and display,
rather than acquisition, has royal
patronage become a thing of the
After spending a year studying royal
I'm finally about to meet one.
Oh, look. Good morning, Your Royal
Very good to see you. Very good to
see you.
These are works from two portrait
series commissioned by the Prince of
Wales - The Last Of The Few,
immortalising heroes from the
Battle of Britain,
commissioned in 2010,
and The Last Of The Tide, veterans
of the D-Day campaign,
commissioned four years later.
When my grandmother died,
I succeeded her as patron of the
Battle of Britain,
you know, fighter pilots and, erm I used to have them to
and we gave them an annual tea party
and things like that.
And so I knew them all,
it just seemed to me absolutely
crucial to try and capture some of
them before they disappeared.
What a character this chap is!
He was such a dear man, I can't tell
He really was.
It seems to me that one gets so much
more of a character from a drawing
like this than one would ever get
from a photograph. Yes, yes.
Well, I think, also, because the
artist, if they're a really good
has an ability to see through,
you know, the outer layer and into
the inner layer.
Yeah. That is the fascinating thing
about artists, I think,
is how they capture the spirit,
or how they see you as a character.
It seems to me that what he's
depicted here so brilliantly is
still the presence of a very young
man within the old body.
That's still the young man who did
do those heroic deeds.
Yes. But that is what he was like.
He was always laughing.
So many different styles, I see.
That's very different from, say,
where we seem to be almost in
the world of a modern Holbein.
That's what I feel. I mean, when I
saw it, I thought,
having looked at those, I think
magical, Holbein drawings, you know,
in the Print Room at Windsor
for so many years,
it was in that sort of extraordinary
tradition of economy of line,
and just a little bit of colour,
which is what Holbein did so
I always thought. But you felt with
Holbein, he never took the pencil
off the paper.
I don't think she did either,
Ishbel Myerscough.
I love all of this, the furrowed
He was another marvellous character!
Now, these were the ones that
I thought, again, that the D-Day
veterans were all disappearing.
I mean, this one was done by
Professor Eileen Hogan,
who I think is brilliant.
Very interesting and unusual
Isn't it? What?
Well, she told me she uses oil
paint, but also thin oil paint with
Ah! Do you see? She paints over the
She was wondering, in the end, how
the conservationists would mend it,
whether it's going to disintegrate
or not, rather like Reynolds's ones,
I don't know. Reynolds! He was a
He tried all sorts of things, didn't
Yes, I think they once found a tea
bag lodged in a Reynolds'!
I love this chap. I think he's got
such a face.
Tich. I just couldn't resist.
He was absolutely wonderful!
She really captured him.
It's astonishing.
I wouldn't have wanted to bump into
him on a dark night!
I was going to say, on a dark night!
I love the way she's done it with
the medals slightly twisted.
Leaping out of the canvas.
He really is. It's not the eyes that
follow you around the room,
it's the whole person!
We're here, under the gaze of
and it strikes me very much as the
kind of project that he would be
giving the thumbs-up.
I've learned quite a lot from
my great-great-great-grandfather, in
the sense of observing, because
for instance, being brought up at
Windsor Castle when I was young,
peddling my car up and down the
then suddenly, aged
Everything on the walls was rather a
blur when you were small,
but then suddenly, when I got to my
teenage years, I suppose 13, 14,
suddenly they came into focus, and I
remember stopping to really look.
It was a marvellous moment, really.
I just think it's important to keep
the collection going in each
generation. And also, if you look
at it
..over all these hundreds of years,
on the whole it's been the
the personal interests of whoever it
is, you know,
either the sovereign or the Prince
of Wales, that has influenced the
So some are more interested than
some preferred to have more of their
friends or, you know,
relations or horses, dogs,
carriages, you know,
occasional Cabinet ministers.
But that is what makes it, I think,
to me, so interesting,
because it isn't just something
that's trying to create a
representative collection, which of
course, all the big galleries do.
No. But this is sort of personal
foibles, really.
For me, the great irony of the Royal
Collection is that the
British monarchy, synonymous with
should have built up a collection
that's so eccentric, so out there.
You can see Buckingham Palace
as a box filled by different
people's quirks -
the whimsy of George IV
..the sensual canvasses collected by
Charles I
..the diminutive, decorative arts of
Queen Mary
..and the artistic romance of
Victoria and Albert.
You might almost see the whole of
the Royal Collection as a wonderful
argument in object form, conducted
between different generations of the
same family about what art might or
might not be.
But for all their differences,
and despite the wonderfully British
eccentricity of the Royal Collection,
the irregularity of its shape, all
one-million-plus objects of it,
there is, I think,
one thread running through it all,
namely the belief that art -
art! - should lie at the very centre
of any civilised society.
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