Charles II: Art and Power – another fascinating exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, more interesting for it’s historical significance than the paintings. After his execution in 1649 most of Charles I’s art collection and other valuables were given away or sold by Oliver Cromwell and his party and few of value were returned.
The Collar Charles II (1630-1685) wears in this painting by John Michael Wright (1617-1694) shows that he is a member of the order of the garter; the Orb represents Christ’s Authority over the world and symbolises that he has been chosen by God to rule; the Parliamentary Robes which are made of crimson velvet with an ermine fur cape and gold lace decorations, represent Charles II’s role as head of state.
Charles II was determined to make his reign as different from that of the Puritans as possible commissioning a variety of valuable artefacts and numerous prints and paintings of himself.
This rather vulgar set of gold plate is typical of his commissions.
He also commissioned paintings and prints of his numerous mistresses including this delightful print of Nell Gwynn as Venus.
The print was adapted from a painting by Correggio which had been in the collection of Charles I. There are numerous paintings of his many other mistresses – I lost count of how many illegitimate children he fathered – as well as of his wife, the unpopular catholic Catherine of Braganza
In spite of his decree that all off Charles I’s paintings be returned, in fact very few were given back to the throne, mainly from the English.
Starting January 27th 2018 a blockbuster exhibition of Charles I’s paintings collected from the other beneficiaries of Cromwell’s distribution opens at the Royal Academy, London – ‘Charles I: King and Collector.
I can take or leave Canaletto’s paintings – they all look too similar to me and too yellow – nothing like the colourful Venice of my memory – but I loved his drawings – especially the early designs for the theatre., where he started his career. His drawings show his great sense of humour as well as his compassion.
His paintings and drawings of Venice would have been a must for wealthy Englishmen making their Grand Tour.
Interesting drawings and paintings by his contemporaries included some by Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Francesco Zuccarelli, Rosalba Carriera, Pietro Longhi and Giovanni Batista Piazzetta.
We have George III to thank for the collection. He bought Joseph Smith’s entire stock for £20,000 in 1762 – some 15,000 books, 500 paintings, drawings etc.
I personally prefer Canaletto’s paintings of London and its surroundings, carried out during his repeated visits to England 1746-1755, but obviously not included in this exhibition.
Portrait of the Artist – Another sumptuous exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. On until April 17th 2017.
Disappointing, to see so few women painters but delighted that this self-portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652) was chosen for the poster. A tough woman who overcame rape and forced marriages to become as great a painter as her father.
Love this jokey picture by Sir Edwin Landseer (1803-1873) entitled The Connoisseurs: Portrait of the Artist with Two Dogs – th one on the right thought to be his own collie, Lassie, and the dog on the left is Myrtle, owned by a patron. The idea being that dogs can recognise fine art as competently as humans.
Surprisingly young and pretty Judith in this painting Judith with the Head of Holoferenes.by Christofano Allori (1577-1621). Her face is modelled on Allori’s ex-lover ‘La Mazzarirra.’
Not sure I’d want to paint my self-portrait as the decapitated Holofernes!!
An interesting comparison with Caravaggio’s ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’ painted around the same time.
One of the artefacts on display in the Queen’s Gallery Scottish Artist exhibition is this magnificent automaton and musical clock by John Smith of Pittenweem. it was exhibited in London in 1808 and put up for sale by lottery. The purchaser was not recorded but it was later acquired by William B Smith of Glasgow, exhibited in 1911 and purchased by the citizens of Glasgow in 1922. It was given to the then Duke of York (later King George VI) and Lady Elisabeth Bowes – Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen mother) on the occasion of their marriage.
When you think of all the the things we have to time from boiling an egg, to baking a cake, to taking a pulse and timing contractions, you have to be grateful for the invention of clocks.
Then you have to think about all the things we have to wait for – your birthday, the next post, the result of an exam, the birth of your baby and the reply from a literary agent who seems interested.
Maria Sibylla Merian, German artist and entomologist left for Suriname in 1699. There she made detailed drawings and paintings of the flora and fauna. She studied and illustrated the metamorphosis of a variety of caterpillars into butterflies or moths. She said that the Rothschildia moth had wings ‘like a piece of Moscow glass’ and sent some of the strong silk produced by their caterpillars to Amsterdam to encourage their breeding for silk.
This watercolour and bodycolour on vellum was probably arranged from specimens including mildly venomous snakes this adventurous woman brought back from Suriname. It was probably painted by Merian’s daughters.
For me, this is the saddest portrait in the exhibition. Allan Ramsay has portrayed the young King George III (1713-1754) in his coronation robes in all his divine glory. His queen, Charlotte, and children are shown in a paired portrait hanging next to it.
Little did anyone at the time know about the dreadful metabolic disease porphyria, that was said to have sent him into bouts of madness – so beautifully shown in the play The Madness of King George, though more recent evidence suggests that his symptoms may indicate that he suffered from mental illness and that there are other explanations for his discoloured urine.
This for me, is the jolliest portrait on show, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Prince Charles Edward Stuart 1720-1788). A handsome young man, in the excellent audio guide provided as part of your ticket, Alexander McCall Smith comments on the fineness of Charlie’s legs and that he would himself prefer to wear his kilt below his knees.
Bonnie he might have been but his attempt on the English and Scottish thrones with the aid of the French was doomed to failure and he spent the rest of his life in exile.
This is my favourite portrait of Prince Albert even though it’s a miniature painted by Robert Thorburn in watercolour on ivory – no longer an acceptable medium.
Here he looks thoughtful and wistful – not the stern martinet as he is often portrayed.
I found these paintings interesting more because of their historical background than their craft. For me these are not the greatest of painters but they cast a light on both the Royals of the time (Part 2 to follow) and the attitude of the painters to the depiction of traditional themes. Whereas the Dutch in the previous exhibition, Dutch Artists in the Time of Vermeer, are happy to show the seamier side of domestic life, the poor in The Penny Wedding and Blind Man’s Buff by Sir David Wilkie show only innocent enjoyment. Similarly the paintings of the Spanish like his The Defence of Saragossa or El Paseo and The Dying Contrabandista (guerrilla) by John Philip are romanticised, unlike the dark images of Spanish painters themselves like Goya and Velasquez.
There are several great things about the Queen’s Gallery. The paintings and other exhibits are in excellent condition, the signage is clear and informative, and if you agree to have your ticket stamped to say than the fee is a charitable donation you can come back as many times as you like for one year.
There is only the one Vermeer (1632-1675) Lady at the Virginal with a Gentlemanshown in the flyer but several Rembrandt (1606-1669) portraits, royal portraits, indoor Dutch scenes with their slightly wicked suggestiveness and much more – drawings, etchings and a pair of flower vases.
This was the time of the Tulip Mania when rare tulip hybrids changed hands for thousands of Dutch guilders. Brought originally from the gardens of the Ottoman Empire the craze reached extraordinary levels before suddenly collapsing. Expensive blooms required expensive, elaborate vases.