Art, Passion and Power
Arts Documentary hosted by Andrew Graham-Dixon, published by BBC in 2018 – English narration
Andrew Graham-Dixon explores the history of the Royal Collection, the dazzling collection of art and decorative objects owned by the Queen. Containing over a million items, this is one of the largest art collections in the world – its masterpieces by Van Dyck, Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, Vermeer and Canaletto line the walls of Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and many other palaces, museums and institutions around Britain.
1) Dangerous Magic
Andrew marvels at the works acquired by the great founders of the modern Royal Collection – Henry VIII and Charles I. Henry VIII deployed the most essential rule of royal collecting, that great art projects great power. Andrew decodes The Story of Abraham series of tapestries in Hampton Court Palace’s Great Hall, explaining how these luxury artworks contain a simple message for his terrified court – obedience.
But Henry also presided over the first great age of the portrait in England; his painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, was a magician who stopped time, preserving the faces of Henry’s court forever. Andrew visits the Royal Collection’s set of over 80 Holbein drawings in Windsor Castle’s print room to see how the artist helped the English to understand themselves in a new way.
Henry VIII tried to overwhelm with magnificence, but for Charles I art was a way to compete with other kings through taste. He was our first connoisseur-king and the greatest royal collector in British history. It was a fateful journey to Spain to win the hand of a Spanish princess that opened Charles’s eyes to the works of Titian and Raphael. But his transformation into a world-class collector was sealed with the wholesale purchase of the enormous art collection of the impoverished Mantuan court. The greatest of the Mantuan treasures were Mantegna’s nine-picture series of The Triumphs of Caesar that Charles installed at Hampton Court. They are themselves a visual depiction of how power – and art – passes from the weak to the strong. Charles was top dog for now – but for how long?
Andrew explores how Charles I’s Royal Collection introduced a new artistic language to British art. The sensuality of Titian and the epic canvases of Tintoretto, still in the Royal Collection today, were a revelation for a country whose visual culture had been obliterated by the Reformation. And we see how Sir Anthony van Dyck created a glamorous new style for the king that could have served as a new beginning for British art. But this was a future that would never happen – the English Civil War and Charles I’s execution put an end to this first great age of royal collecting, with the king’s artworks sold in ‘the most extravagant royal car-boot sale in history’.
2) Paradise Regained
In the year 1660, something miraculous began to happen. After the execution of Charles I, the Royal Collection had been sold off and scattered to the four winds. But now, with the restoration of Charles II, the monarchy was back. And with it their driven, sometimes obsessive, passion for art. Slowly but surely, new pieces were acquired, as others were returned out of fear of reprisal. The Royal Collection had sprung back to life.
Andrew Graham-Dixon tells the story of the Royal Collection’s remarkable resurrection, following its fortunes from Charles II through to the 18th century and the enlightened purchases of George III. This is when some of the Queen’s greatest treasures were collected – a magnificent silver-gilt salt cellar in the form of castle, kept in the Tower of London, a gold state coach, adorned with cherubs and tritons, and masterpieces by Vermeer, Canaletto and Leonardo da Vinci.
Andrew discovers the extraordinary peace offerings given to the 30-year-old Charles II by fearful citizens, because they had backed the Parliamentarians in the Civil War. And then there are works given by other countries, hoping to curry favour with the restored monarch – Holland gave sculptures, a yacht, a bed and a collection of paintings worth nearly Â£30 million in today’s money, including two magnificent masterpieces by Titian that are still in the Collection.
At Windsor Castle, Andrew reveals Charles II’s life of extravagance – this was a king who dined in public, as if he was a god, in an attempt to rival France’s Louis XIV, the Sun King. His palace walls were hung with paintings of beautiful young women, the ‘Windsor Beauties’. Even Charles’s furniture speaks of excess – tables and mirrors completely covered in silver.
But Charles was also a king who bought wisely and Andrew is astonished by the recent discoveries of Royal Collection Trust conservators. Blank pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks (most likely acquired in Charles II’s reign) come alive under ultraviolet light, revealing drawings unseen for centuries.
Andrew shows how the Collection grew during the 18th century, despite philistine kings like George II (‘I hate painting’, he once shouted in his German accent). Under George III, royal collecting soared to new heights, driven by the new king’s enlightened curiosity in the wider world and his desire to understand how it worked. Andrew travels to Venice to tell the story of one of the greatest purchases in the Royal Collection’s history – as a young king, George III paid Â£20,000 to Canaletto’s agent Consul Joseph Smith for a superb collection including over 50 paintings by the Venetian master.
George III, like Charles II, would be feted with gifts including the Padshahnama – an illustrated Indian chronicle of the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (famous for commissioning the Taj Mahal). Andrew discovers the incredible painting, so delicate that it was, legend tells us, painted with brushes made with hairs taken from the necks of baby kittens. Because of his restless curiosity, by the end of his reign George III had overseen some of the greatest acquisitions in the Royal Collection’s history.
3) Palaces and Pleasuredomes
Andrew Graham-Dixon continues his exploration of the Royal Collection, the vast collection of art and decorative objects owned by the Queen. In the third episode he has reached the age of the Romantics – the flamboyant George IV who created so much of the visual look of the modern monarchy, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, for whom collecting was an integral part of their happy marriage.
As Prince of Wales, George was a famously loose cannon – a spendaholic prince whose debts ballooned in tandem with the royal waistline. But as a collector, Andrew argues, George was one of the great artistic figures of the Romantic age. His tastes were very much formed by the fallout from the French Revolution; as the great French aristocratic collections were broken up, an exodus of great art flooded into London’s auction rooms – and George was there to buy them. He assembled a world-class collection of Dutch and Flemish masters, including key works by Rembrandt, Cuyp and de Hooch, as well as some of the greatest examples of French furniture ever produced, which Andrew sees in the state rooms of Buckingham Palace.
George IV was a natural showman and Andrew argues that his visit to Edinburgh in 1822 helped pioneer the modern monarchy’s use of spectacle. But, like Henry VIII and Charles before him, George had the sense to partner up with an artist of genius – Sir Thomas Lawrence. The result of their collaboration is seen in a series of stirring battlefield portraits that line Windsor Castle’s Waterloo Chamber.
Queen Victoria is often depicted as the uptight opposite of her louche uncle, but Andrew argues that, for her, art was just as important. This was a passion that she could share with her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who believed that learning how to make art was the best way to understand it.
Andrew visits Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, still filled with their art possessions, including marble facsimiles of the arms and legs of her infant children, commissioned by Victoria herself.
Andrew argues that Albert was a natural curator; he instilled a love for collecting in his children and compiled an early ‘database’ of the complete works of Raphael which he kept in his new ‘print room’ in Windsor Castle as a tool for art historians. But it is on the streets of South Kensington (‘Albertopolis’) that Andrew discovers Albert’s real legacy – the museums and educational institutions here are a testimony to his vision for the area, purchased with the help of profits from the Great Exhibition.
4) Modern Times
Andrew Graham-Dixon explores how royal collecting has changed since the days of Queen Victoria. This is a story of the British monarchy’s remarkable survival, while elsewhere the crown heads of Europe crumbled in the face of world wars and revolutions. But it is also an age when women took charge of royal collecting; from Victoria to Elizabeth II, queens and queen consorts have used art to steady the ship of monarchy during this uncertain age.
It’s one of the curiosities of the Royal Collection that as the monarchy’s power diminished, so too did the objects they collected. Gone were epic canvases, instead came objects of exquisite, delicate and intimate beauty. Andrew marvels at a selection of the royal family’s collection of Faberge jewellery – one of the greatest in the world – that includes the Mosaic Egg from 1914. So taken were Edward VII and his wife Queen Alexandria with the works of Peter Carl Faberge, that the jeweller opened a London shop to service the demands of royal clientele.
And then there’s Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House – presented to George V’s queen to thank her for her steadfastness during the first world war, the Dolls’ House is an astonishing artistic collaboration by over 1,500 people and companies, replete with books containing new stories by authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, tiny champagne bottles filled with real champagne and even mini shotguns that can be broken, loaded and fired. More than just a dolls’ house, this is a three-dimensional archive of a vanished artistic age.
The Collection reveals fresh insights into these remarkable women, in particular HM the Queen Mother, who loved art and collected with flair. At Clarence House, Andrew discovers a surprising collection of contemporary British art that she assembled in the 1930s and 1940s, including works by Walter Sickert, LS Lowry, Paul Nash and Augustus John. Andrew traces her greatest commission, a series of 26 paintings of Windsor Castle by John Piper, painted during the Second World War. With Windsor at risk of being bombed, Piper created an eerie dreamscape filled with black skies and foreboding.
Andrew also brings royal collecting up to date. From the outset Elizabeth II’s priorities had been focused on preserving and displaying the Collection, and Andrew shows how one of the key events in its recent history – the Windsor Castle fire – was an unlikely catalyst in the reform of the Collection’s care. Concluding his exploration, Andrew meets HRH the Prince of Wales to view two of his recent commissions, powerful portraits of veterans of the Battle of Britain and the D-Day landings, and to discuss the continued importance of this remarkable collection.
Art Passion and Power 4 Modern Times 1080p HDTV x264 AAC MVGroup
Published on: Sep 23, 2018 @ 01:56