QUEEN OF THE ARTS
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY DIVYA SEHGAL
I grew up reading fictional accounts of great artists. Tracy Chevalier's book based on Vermeer's painting of the same name, The Girl with a Pearl Earring (a print of which was gifted to me by my now husband on my 25th birthday and now hangs in our living room), Somerset Maugham's account of Paul Gauguin in Moon and the Sixpence and, of course, Van Gogh's life written by Irving Stone in Lust for Life. My “education” in in the history of classical and contemporary art began when I was around 11 and my father showed me prints of Goya’s Clothed and Nude Maja that he'd purchased but hadn't yet installed at our home. Once my dad realised that he had an art enthusiast in me, our weekends at home in Bangalore were spent in front of the computer looking at new artwork in the market.
I live in London now, and I try to catch all the art exhibitions curated by the various galleries here, the usual suspects being Royal Academy of Art, National Gallery, and Tate Modern. When I heard about the Dutch artists exhibition being held at the Queen’s Gallery at the Buckingham Palace, I was intrigued because I hadn’t realised there even was a Queen’s Gallery. So off I went to see the original paintings of artists like Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Vermeer, among others.
It’s the place to go to if you want to spend a lazy afternoon exploring the Royal Collection that’s big enough to satiate your hunger for good art and small enough to get an idea of the personal tastes of Europe’s kings and queens.
The Queen’s Gallery has, as I imagined, tight security, and it isn’t big. It has two dedicated galleries for rotating exhibitions and collections and only showcases works of art from the Royal Collection. The Masters of Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer exhibition showcased the Dutch masterpieces collected by kings and queens since Charles I and only covered two rooms. It was a small collection – the usual exhibitions in other galleries cover at least 10 rooms – but it meant I could spend a longer time viewing the paintings at leisure without feeling overwhelmed.
As the name of the exhibition suggests, the paintings highlighted everyday domestic work – Gerrit Dou’s A Girl Chopping Onions, Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. Others were larger paintings by Willem van de Velde (both the Elder and the Younger) depicting burning Dutch merchant ships, thousands of them with clouds of red fire.
I was pleasantly surprised that, despite the tight security, photography was allowed. Photography of any nature is strictly prohibited in other, larger galleries, but so long as we didn’t use the flash we could stand in front of a painting for as long as we wanted at The Queen’s Gallery with our cameras aimed and ready. We zoomed in and out with our phones and DSLRs, leaning closely or moving behind to get the best shot of our favourite paintings.
The Queen’s Gallery is in Buckingham Palace, but it’s far enough away from the buzz of tourists who crowd the Palace. It’s the place to go to if you want to spend a lazy afternoon exploring the Royal Collection that’s big enough to satiate your hunger for good art and small enough to get an idea of the personal tastes of Europe’s kings and queens. It’s a peek into the last great European royal art collection to survive the centuries and remain intact.
For admission prices and opening times, please visit The Queen's Gallery website.
The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1A 1AA. Phone: 0303 123 7301