Exhibitions Huon Mallalieu
PRINCE & PATRON
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace to 30th September
As a patron of the arts, the Prince of Wales is particularly inspired by two of his predecessors, Charles II and George III. This exhibition, which he has curated to mark his 70th birthday, is conceived as a Kunstkammer such as would have been familiar to them both.
There are more than 100 objects from the Royal Collection that mean much to him and in some cases have fascinated him since childhood, together with some of his own. It is natural that a portrait of Charles II should be prominently displayed, and that the design of the exhibition should be inspired by a work closely associated with George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte.
The laurel-wreathed Charles II by Antonio Verrio is a fragment from the ceiling of St George’s Hall, Windsor Castle, removed during George IV’S 1824 restorations. It was on the London market recently and so is likely to be one of the Prince’s own additions to the collection. In the 1990s it was offered in Vienna as a portrait of Emperor Leopold I. It is good that it has returned home.
The show’s design is based on Johann Zoffany’s The Tribuna of the Uffizi commissioned by Charlotte in 1772. It took five years to complete and, when delivered, ended the artist’s royal patronage. Charlotte disapproved of the many sexual jokes and innuendos. Zoffany crowded the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s gallery not only with his
treasures, but also with English Grand Tourists, connoisseurs, dilettanti and libertines. One group ogles the rump of the Venus de Medici. The painting was banished to the King’s room at Kew, where he could enjoy the Venus of Urbino.
The octagonal layout of the show, created within Buckingham Palace’s Ball Supper Room, echoes that of the Tribuna, as does the scatter of exhibits which, as in the Zoffany, include works by Holbein, Rubens, Raphael and Titian.
Other royal collectors are recognised, including Queen Mary II, represented by some of the Chinese blue and white porcelain she avidly amassed, and naturally Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Vanessa Remington, curator of paintings at the collection, has pointed out that the choice of Landseer’s preparatory oil sketch of Victoria and a faceless Albert (for Windsor Castle in Modern Times) reflects Prince Charles’s interest in the processes of making art.
This links to various paintings and objects created by young artists associated with three charities founded by the Prince: the Royal Drawing School, the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, and Turquoise Mountain, which trains artisans in Afghanistan. There are also a couple of his own watercolours (despite the sneerers, he should be judged as the talented amateur that he is), a couple of his books, and numerous portraits of his family, which vary in quality.
Can one wonder that as a boy he should have been captivated by Napoleon’s scarlet and gold Berber cloak captured at Waterloo? This is an admirably personal display, and shows much of its curator’s personality. It is very human yet in the spirit of a cabinet of curiosities that there should be loved examples of near-kitsch among the treasures.
The art of sexual innuendo: Johann Zoffany’s The Tribuna of the Uffizi (1772-78)