Buckingham Palace welcomed a record-breaking number of visitors through its doors this summer after the internationally celebrated wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earlier this year. As a spokeswoman for the Royal Collection suggested, ‘wedding fever’ seems to have generated a love of all-things-royal, with other official residences of the Queen also seeing a rise in visitor numbers. The main attraction to the London palace was of course the ten week exhibition of Kate Middleton’s iconic Wedding Dress, which closed to the public on 3rd October. I was one of the recorded 600,000 to make my way through the royal state rooms of the palace to see this spectacle designed by Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen.
There is no wonder as to why Burton described the dress (in a short video showing as part of the exhibition) as ‘a real feat of engineering’. A perfect balance between Victorian stateliness and contemporary elegance, the gown is a masterful composition of ivory and white satin gazar and six different types of lace. The appliqué detail of the bodice and skirt was handmade at the Royal School of Needlework where embroiders apparently washed their hands every thirty minutes to ensure the lace remained immaculate. A 360 degree view of the ‘opening flower’ skirt, beautifully pleated train and silk tulle veil- made almost ethereal under a spotlight in the ballroom of the palace- was an astounding sight. For me, the experience was reminiscent of gazing into one of the paintings of a Pre-Raphaelite artist of the 19th century such as John Everett Millais. This is particularly relevant as Queen Victoria was the first royal monarch to be photographed, a new form of art that would greatly inspire artists such as Millais during the Victorian era. It is thus fair to say that Burton’s efforts to be ‘both forward and backwards looking’ certainly earned her her place among the Royal Collection this summer.
This collection also includes over 800 Peter Carl Fabergé items, around 100 of which were on display at the palace during the Summer Exhibition. Each was an aesthetic treat in itself. From the late 1800s pieces would be exchanged between the British, Danish and Russian Royal families as gifts, meaning the collection represents a long history of imperial relations. I was particularly struck by the prized ‘Colonnade egg’ (made in 1910) which stands as one of the most precious figures in this assembly. Caroline de Guitaut, the Exhibition Curator, suggests that the two platinum doves resting in the centre of the intricate green stone colonnade (which also acts as a rotary clock) reveal the ‘personal nature of these exquisite objects’ which together, form arguably the most impressive Fabergé collection in the world. Drawn to Buckingham palace solely (I’ll admit) by the light of the wedding dress, I was surprised to find such an enjoyable nectar of artwork in the royal Fabergé which trapped and enchanted me for (almost) as lengthy an amount of time.
So, what next? What artistic delicacies will the royals reveal for us after this scrumptious summer of astonishing craftsmanship, both young and old? The 2nd-5th June 2012 will act as an extended weekend to mark sixty years of the Queen’s reign and this will mean a new influx of memorabilia including a new £5 coin produced by the Royal Mint to mark the occasion. It will feature two new portraits of Her Majesty, one being created especially for 2012. A commemorative medal, resembling a ten pence piece, has also been commissioned to celebrate the work of members of the Armed Forces, Police forces and Emergency services along with others who have served the country.
The Royal Collection also plans to hold exhibitions in 2012 to honour the Diamond Jubilee and these will be held at numerous royal residences across the country including Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. The most exciting of the jubilee celebrations, however, will be staged at the National Portrait Gallery in London (after touring from Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff). The exhibition is an innovative attempt to show the ways in which visual representations of Elizabeth II have changed and altered throughout her sixty years on the throne, bringing together sixty of what are considered the most outstanding images of our ruling monarch.
As this summer has shown, the royal family provides us with a rich source artwork that both represents and takes inspiration from a long and very interesting period of British history. Perhaps more significant though, is that they are constantly acting as the muse, meeting-point and canvas for new developments and innovations in the art world giving us a lot to look forward to indeed.