Adult Entry: £11
Nearest Tube: Victoria (District, Circle, and Victoria lines)
If asked to name some of the great British collections of antiquities and art, you would probably start with the well-known national museums. What you probably wouldn’t start with, or indeed mention at all, is the Royal Collection. That’s right, the Queen has quite a collection of art and antiquities- she even has her own gallery. In fact, the Royal Collection includes some surprisingly famous pieces, for example the Crouching Aphrodite (Lely’s Venus); a star piece at the British Museum.
This week, I am interested in Her Majesty’s collection of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice; begun by George III, and supplemented by loans to create the Canaletto & The Art Of Venice exhibition, hosted in the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace. Fancy huh? The Queen’s Gallery is a grand, if slightly dated, building accessed from the south side of the Palace grounds. Inside, there are suitable amounts of marble and gilding, but the modest dimensions help to prevent attention being diverted from the works themselves. The gallery rooms are generally small, which is perplexing, but they are well formed and only slightly impact the formation of the displays. One excellent feature is the historically brightly painted walls. These vivid reds and deep greens work well to make Canaletto’s bright vision of Venice leap off the canvas. Being so thrilled by the bold display of Canaletto’s large painted pieces, I was a little disappointed by the amount of space devoted to his sketches. Undoubtedly they provided interesting insight into his technique and style- one section demonstrates his process of creating precise technical drawings of a view, before adding the more fluid elements on top to create his signature style of pattern-led vistas. However, I fell that they are given too much time in the exhibition overall.
Moving on to the large oil works of Canaletto’s contemporaries, the architecture really starts to support the pieces, as this is exactly the sort of space for which Canaletto would have been commissioned to fill. Occasionally the lighting caused problems, particularly creating bad glare on works, necessitating some bizarre viewing angles. This, however, is most likely the downside of the architecture that I praised only moments ago. Can’t have everything, it seems.
The finale of the exhibition is a delight, a scarlet room filled with Canaletto’s series’ of both Venice and Rome. Each painting is packed with detail, from a mischievous thumbprint, to a precisely rendered puppet-show. At this point, the (free) audio guide really comes into its own, adding details and anecdotes that brought the character of each work to life. The hang* in this room is very effective. The paintings collaborate so well as a series, that standing back to appreciate the set is as rewarding as close inspection, and I strongly suggest that you take the time in this room to do both of those things.
When you live in London, it is very easy to discount anything ‘Royal’ as being Tourist with a capital T. Next time you are looking for a cultural day out however, bear the Queen in mind, as she may just have something for you.
*I have realised that I keep using the term ‘hang’ without ever explaining it. ‘Hang’ refers to the distribution in which works of art are mounted on the wall. For example, a tight hang, simple hang, dense hang, etc..