The Royal Collection of the British Royal family is the largest private art collection in the world. Some of the collection is owned by the monarch personally, and everything else is described as being held in trust by the monarch in right of the Crown.
The collection is made up of over one million objects, including 7,000 paintings, over 150,000 works on paper - with 30,000 watercolours and drawings, 450,000 photographs as well as tapestries, furniture, ceramics, textiles, carriages, weapons, armour, jewellery, clocks, musical instruments, tableware, plants (really?), manuscripts, books, and sculptures. That is a lot of stuff. This musing is going to focus on the paintings and in two parts: first on the book that lead me to write this musing and second on facts about the collection that I came across in doing my research.
A short while ago we acquired the following item. The Queen’s Pictures – The History of the British Royal Collection; by Oliver Millar, MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1977. Oliver Millar was appointed Assistant to the Surveyor of The Queen’s Pictures in 1947, Deputy Surveyor in 1949 and
Surveyor in 1972. Who better to write this book?
The front of the dust jacket is of Windsor Castle, The Corridor, South Side by Joseph Nash.
Here is some information from the blurb – “Of all the great European royal collections of the past, that of the British royal family is the only one to retain its identity and not to have been absorbed into a national collection. Not only is it incomparably rich, richer indeed than many public galleries, but the pictures and the history of their acquisitions provide a fascinating insight into the personalities of British monarchs, their consorts and their children – reflecting their discernment, prejudice, their bad taste as well as their good, their friendships, diversions, loves, idiosyncrasies, and obsessions in a uniquely illuminating manner. In this, the first detailed account to be published, Oliver Millar traces the growth of this outstanding collection from the Tutor period onwards, illustrating both its past and present riches with over three hundred carefully chosen plates.”
Where are the pictures to be primarily found?
- Windsor Castle,
- Buckingham Palace,
- Hampton Court Palace,
- Kensington Palace,
- Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh,
- Private residences such as Sandringham House and Balmoral Castle,
- On loan to museums throughout the world.
Charles I was a passionate collector of Italian paintings and a major patron of Van Dyck. His entire collection of some 1,500 paintings was sold after his execution by Cromwell. A number of pieces were recovered by Charles II after the Restoration in 1660.
And the interests of other monarchs:
- George III – Old Masters
- George IV – Dutch Golden Age
- Queen Victoria and Albert – Old Masters and contemporary artists
- Elizabeth II – art from around the Commonwealth and Modern Art including Andy Warhol
- The paintings are not a comprehensive , chronological survey of Western Art but rather shaped by the individual tastes of kings, queens, and their families over the last 500 years.
The Royal Collection includes at least 6 Rembrandts, 50 Canalettos, hundreds of drawings by Da Vinci, multiple works of Peter Paul Rubens and nearly two dozen drawings by Michelangelo. There are also works by Titian, and Claude Monet.
The greatest paintings in the Royal Collection are typically found at the Picture Gallery, Buckingham Place.