Ylva French Blog: May 2014

A Royal Summer ahead

The first signs of a royal summer – glorious hats in all colours and shapes – have started to appear on certain days around Victoria Station in London. Guests from near and far are making their way to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. Later in the afternoon they jostle with office workers on their way home, ladies carrying their hats and sometimes even their high-heeled shoes while gents unbutton their tight morning coats. Having enjoyed the tea and cakes myself a few years ago, I know it’s a memory for ever, but comfortable shoes and umbrellas are recommended rather than the latest stilettos.

Take a look at the State Rooms at the Palace from the end of July

You have to wait till 26 July for the summer opening of Buckingham Palace – open until 28 September. In addition to the tour of the State Rooms and Gardens this year there will be an exhibition of Royal Childhood with toys and clothes going back to the time of George III. My particular interest is of course the Picture Gallery with its changing display from the Royal Collection. Some people will remember the memorable play “A Question of Attribution” – in the television version Prunella Scales played the Queen discussing her paintings with the Keeper of the Collection, Anthony Blunt, later unveiled as a spy. Book now.

The first Georgians at the Queens Gallery

For an early taste of the royal season step into the exhibition, The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714–1760, beautifully displayed in the Queens Gallery next to the Palace. This covers the reigns of George I and his son George II through pictures and documents. They didn’t like each other much – but it didn’t stop them collecting and commissioning outstanding paintings and artefacts. On a busy May morning outside the gallery was an oasis of calm, although there were one or two camera-laden tourists who may have entered in the belief that they were visiting the Palace itself! No doubt they enjoyed the display, especially the two large Canalettos of views of the Thames, taking up almost the entire wall in the largest room in the Gallery. The only information missing (but maybe it was there) was a family tree for those unfamiliar with the Hanoverian “take-over” of the British throne.

More about the Georgians

Georgians are all the rage (this is an anniversary year) and you can find out more about them at Hampton Court Palace, Kew Palace and in a new exhibition at Kensington Palace, The First Georgians. Here the King’s State Apartments have been transformed as they were when used by George I and his wife, Queen Caroline. Your blogger entered via the magnificent King’s Staircase by William Kent, somewhat squashed between two parties of tourists – French and Japanese. As the flow cleared the apartments emerged, whimsically decorated with white, headless figures, each with a caption on their cuff. They represented various courtiers, the Queen, Princess Amelia and George I, who was in black. As visitors posed happily behind them to have their pictures taken, it became clearer what they were for. Music filled the rooms with their wonderful but mostly uncaptioned paintings, particularly sad in the rather gloomy but impressive King’s Gallery. Highlights were the displays about Queen Caroline – her dressing room with various items of clothing and fascinating paper dolls showing the latest court fashion, and the Queen’s closet with its focus on her literary and scientific interests. Achieving a balance between the flighty tourist and the interested visitor is not always easy.

Enjoy the free Historical Tours of the Palace Gardens, every day, and get a closer view of the statue of Queen Victoria (by her daughter) (see pic above). There are also numerous special events on the Georgian theme, culminating in Handel’s Fireworks and Illuminations at Hampton Court Palace on 14 September.

Holyrood Palace not left behind

To coincide with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (23 July – 3 August), an exhibition of the Queen’s collection of Commonwealth gifts is already on display at Holyrood Palace. During her 61 years as Monarch, she has visited nearly every Commonwealth country and has received an endless number of gifts, no doubt some more useful and welcome than others. Around 70 are included in the exhibition and range from model canoes and trucks to raffia fans and paintings.

A tour of this Palace includes a visit to the chamber of Mary Queen of Scots where the infamous Rizzio murder took place, and also the Darnley Rooms with a bed dating back to 1682, made for the then Duke of Hamilton, the Hereditary Keeper of the Palace. The third Duke of Hamilton died here, probably in this bed in 1694, having been taken ill on his way back from London. He was met by his concerned wife, the Third Duchess of Hamilton, in her own name, the formidable Anne, but her team of doctors could not revive him. (Read more about this in my book, Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting which once belonged to the Hamiltons – see below).

Wait till next year for the Royal Mint

The Royal Mint first visitor centre will open in 2015 at the Headquarters of the Mint in Llantrisant, South Wales (not far from Cardiff). The £7.7m attraction will explore the 1000 year heritage and manufacture of coins and medals for around 60 countries. The Mint moved to Wales in 1967, after several hundred years based in and near the Tower of London. This will be a great visit not just for numismatics but for anyone interested in money!

Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting by Ylva French, now available at as an E-book in the Kindle Store. See also for the pictures and the story of the book.