Britain’s kings, queens and their families have been inspired to paint, sketch and sculpt for generations . Now a new exhibition at Windsor Castle explores the history of royal artists from the 17th century to the present day. It includes works by George III and his children, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their children, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and by Her Majesty The Queen. Also on display are a group of watercolours by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who plays a leading role in the film. The Prince, who is Chairman of The Royal Collection Trust, has described how his love of painting was inspired by his early years at Windsor Castle surrounded by great art – so it is fitting that the Castle’s Drawings Gallery provides the backdrop for an exhibition dedicated to his family’s work.
The story told in the exhibition, which brings together works from the Royal Collection and from the collection of The Prince of Wales, begins during the aftermath of the English Civil War. Charles I’s nephew, the military leader Prince Rupert of the Rhine, depicted the execution of St John the Baptist in a magnificent mezzotint entitled The Great Executioner (1658). Mezzotint was a new engraving technique which Prince Rupert introduced to Great Britain at the time of the Restoration in 1660. His subject matter may refer obliquely to the execution in 1649 of his uncle Charles I, who is buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. During the reign of Charles I’s son and successor Charles II, Prince Rupert was appointed Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle.
By contrast, a century later, the work of George III shows the ordered perfection characteristic of the Georgian style. The King’s drawings, which mostly date from the late 1750s, just before his accession in 1760, include a Design for a Corinthian Temple at Kew and a View of Syon House from Kew Gardens.
A familiar scene for visitors to Windsor is captured by George III’s fifth son, Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Aged nine, he painted an accomplished view in gouache of Windsor Town and Castle (1780), presumably under the careful supervision of his art teacher.
George III’s daughters were also tutored in art, and painted and drew throughout their lives. Like The Prince of Wales, the young Princesses were often inspired by the works of art they saw around them. In 1785, George III’s second daughter, Princess Augusta made an etching after a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci from the magnificent group of the artist’s work that entered the Royal Collection during the reign of Charles II. Leonardo’s drawing and the Princess’s etching will be shown side by side in the exhibition. George III’s third daughter,
Princess Elizabeth, was particularly creative. One of the rooms at Frogmore House, a favourite royal retreat in Windsor Home Park, is decorated with her floral murals and decorative panels, including intricate cut-paper. Silhouettes and a large floral still life by Princess Elizabeth are included in the exhibition.
In the 19th century, the teaching and practice of watercolour painting became widespread, and professional artists, such as Richard Westall, George Hayter, Edward Lear and William Leighton Leitch, were employed to teach Queen Victoria and her family. The exhibition includes teaching sheets of watercolour studies by the Queen copied from Leitch. A selection of pages from Queen Victoria’s sketchbooks are displayed, including intimate portraits of her children, and atmospheric landscapes made during her holidays at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
All of Queen Victoria’s children received art lessons. The painter Edward Henry Corbould taught the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) to paint by encouraging him to copy his own watercolours, which were arranged in specially made teaching books. Queen Victoria’s enthusiasm for drawing and painting was passed on to her daughters, in particular her eldest daughter Victoria, the Princess Royal, and her sixth child Princess Louise, who later exhibited her sculptures at the Royal Academy and is represented in the exhibition by a watercolour of herself and Queen Victoria drying themselves in front of a fire on the Balmoral estate.
Queen Victoria also arranged for her drawing master, William Leighton Leitch, to teach her new daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, who had married The Prince of Wales in 1862. In one of her sketchbooks from the 1880s, the future Queen Alexandra records her mother-in-law Queen Victoria at Balmoral. The exhibition also contains a linocut of a circus horse, made in the 1930s by the future Queen Elizabeth II when she was a young princess.
The story of royal artists concludes with a number of works by The Prince of Wales, chiefly from the last three decades. The Prince has painted throughout his adult life, during holidays and when his official diary allows. He often paints in watercolour in the open air, particularly on The Queen’s Balmoral estate in Scotland, and takes pleasure in the specific challenges of observing and then recording his observations in this particularly British medium. The 15 watercolours by The Prince of Wales include a number that feature the same highland landscapes as were recorded by his great-great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, including views of the Cairngorms and Lochnagar.
Illustrated: Children at Osborne House by Queen Victoria c 1850
Royal Paintbox: Royal Artists Past and Present
The Drawings Gallery, Windsor Castle
22 June 2013 – 26 January 2014