Technically speaking, the sovereign doesn't "own" the rare and exquisite works of art in the Royal Collection, she merely holds them in trust for the nation—and what a collection it is! Only a selection is on view at any one time, presented in themed exhibitions. Let the excellent (free) audio guide take you through the elegant galleries filled with some of the world's greatest art works.
A rough timeline of the major royal collectors starts with Charles I (who also commissioned Rubens to paint the Banqueting House ceiling). An avid art enthusiast, Charles established the basis of the Royal Collection, purchasing works by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, and Dürer. During the Civil War and in the aftermath of Charles's execution, many masterpieces were sold abroad and subsequently repatriated by Charles II. George III, who bought Buckingham House, scooped up a notable collection of Venetian (including Canaletto), Renaissance (Bellini and Raphael), and Dutch (Vermeer) art, and a
large number of baroque drawings, in addition to patronizing English contemporary artists such as Gainsborough and Beechey. He also took a liking to American artist Benjamin West. The Prince Regent, later George IV, had a particularly good eye for Rembrandt, equestrian works by Stubbs, and lavish portraits by Lawrence. Queen Victoria had a penchant for Landseer animals and landscapes, and Frith's contemporary scenes. Later, Edward VII indulged Queen Alexandra's love of Fabergé, and many royal tours around the empire produced gifts of gorgeous caliber, such as the Cullinan diamond from South Africa and an emerald-studded belt from India.
More than 3,000 other objects from the Royal Collection reside in museums and galleries in the United Kingdom and abroad: check out the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London, and the British Museum. The E-gallery provides an interactive electronic version of the collection, allowing the user to open lockets, remove a sword from its scabbard, or take apart the tulip vases. It's probably the closest you could get to eyeing practically every diamond in the whole glittering diadem.
Buckingham Palace, Buckingham Palace Rd., London, SW1A 1AA, England
Apr 2, 2008
This is a small museum with a somewhat sizable price tag given its scope. Timed entry is a bit of a pain. Some good things here, but exactly what will be displayed at any one time can be unpredictable (the Vermeer was not out when I went). Not bad, though there are better and cheaper small art museums in London.