Sometimes, it may be wiser to not have loved and lost, or to have bothered even loving at all…especially in the case of the portraits of King Henry VIII’s wives. Nonetheless, the British royal Collection is a fascinating grouping of as Sir Walter Scott said, ” some fine paintings and some droll ones.” The tourists like the chain of royal portraits of English sovereigns from Henry V to the present day and a host of their friends and relations. But behind the walls on which hang the Rembrandt’s, Van Dyck’s and Gainsborough’s you will still find those droll princes who fascinated Scott: ” ill coloured, orang-outan-looking figures, with black eyes and hook noses, in old fashioned uniforms.
In 1527,Sir Henry Guildford sat for the painter Hans Holbein the Younger, who had just come over to England from Basel. The result confirms the observation that ” Holbein seems to have that purity of style through which a sitter appears to tell his own story, with a clarity that is a distillation of the truth.” Guildford was a man of parts, a friend not only of Henry VIII but of Sir Thomas More, and an acquaintance, or at least a correspondent – of Erasmus. His superb portrait is now in the British royal Collection.
“Henry VIII employed the great German portrait painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Charles I attracted a range of artists to England, none more important that Van Dyck. Charles I also bought en masse the collection of the Gonzaga family, the Dukes of Mantua. When the painter Rubens visited England in 1629 he was amazed to discover a collection which could bear comparison with those in the courts of Italy, France and Spain. The king’s collection was sold during Cromwell’s Protectorate (1649-59) and only re-acquired piece-meal and in part after the Restoration. During the 18th century Frederick, Prince of Wales and his son George III proved discerning patrons and collectors, the latter acquiring at a stroke the entire collection of the English Consul in Venice and Canaletto’s agent – Joseph Smith”
The Queen of England has arguably the finest art collection in the world. Her collection of Leonardo and Michelangelo drawings alone is the largest single gathering of works by these Renaissance masters. Assembled by the Kings and Queens of the British monarchy over 500 years, the Royal Collection consists of more than 200,000 items of fine art, including some 7,000 paintings, 40,000 drawings and watercolours, 150,000 old master prints, sculpture, ceramics and rare illuminated manuscripts, as well as a huge assortment of decorative art, including furniture, clocks, silver, jewellery, and tapestries. The British Royal Art Collection is not owned by the Queen as a private individual: it is held in trust by her as Sovereign for her successors and the Nation.
If the collection has suffered many misfortunes- not the least of them the grievous dispersal of many of its finest treasures after the execution of Charles I- it is still of absorbing interest; it provides a vivid record of royal diversions, foibles, likes and dislikes over the past half a millennium. Of course, the portraits of royalty are one of the backbones of the collection. Of these some of the most beautiful royal likenesses are by Gainsborough , for whom the royal family seems to have had great affection. In 1781, the artist exhibited at the Royal Academy his full length studies of the King and Queen, which are regarded as the most subtly brilliant English royal portraits since the days of Van Dyck.
…”By contrast, Howard Jacobson lets the odd expert stray in front of the cameras where they tend to imitate the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights. His contribution to the highly subjective The Genius of British Art series, aired on Channel 4 last Sunday, focused on Victorian nude painting, with the likes of William Etty, Alma-Tadema, Lord Leighton and other unedifying Victorians on display. I don’t know if this was intentional but the act of retrieving a nude painting from storage had the air of a porn merchant bringing his wares from the back of the shop. In a bid to rescue the Victorian nude from its fate of languishing in obscurity, Howard took us down memory lane (or should that be memory lain) to Manchester Art Gallery.
Subjects such as Hylas and the Nymphs evoked incidents in Howard’s lovelife- a tryst on a boat in some park in some northern city. Halfway through the programme I was treading water. Claims about moral complexity and moral ambiguity in Victorian erotic art aside, most of this art is simply unimaginative and third rate academic tripe. Only a handful of curators would champion this kind of art. I mean, even the Keeper of the Royal Collection seemed non-plussed when asked to comment on some picture in the Queen’s collection.
n 1526, Hans Holbein the Younger, his career in religious painting disrupted by Reformation iconoclasm, traveled from Basel, Switzerland, to London, England, hoping to find employment. With a letter in hand from the humanist scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, Holbein first approached Sir Thomas More. The artist executed a number of portraits for More and others of standing before returning to the Continent in 1528….
aWhether it is because the Queen has little interest in buying or whether she has realised funds are limited and improvements need to be made, we understand the adding to the collection is not a primary target. We also have to remember that unlike other collections it is unthinkable for the Queen to bid at auction. The Queen once came close to buying a work through Christies, with the bidders against her being the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery of Scotland, the Queen then realised she of course had to withdraw as she could not be seen taking a work of public interest into her own private pleasure, it was also suggested that it is not clear, if the bid were to go ahead, which one would have been more embarrassing for Her Majesty, a defeat or a victory.