Exhibition at Buckingham Palace traces the evolution of royal portraits

Some of the works, many seen for the first time, date as far back as 1920

Powered by automated translation

An exhibition at the Buckingham Palace is tracing “the evolution of royal portraits”, presenting photographs that have been taken since the 1920s.

Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography opened at the King’s Gallery on Friday. More than 150 photographic prints and documents have been sourced from the the Royal Collection and the Royal Archives. While there are several works that have become well known, some are only now making their public debut.

“This exhibition charts the evolution of royal portraits photography over the past century, so from... the high society glamour of the 1920s all the way to the coronation of King Charles III in 2023," Alessandro Nasini, senior curator of photographs at the Royal Collection Trust and exhibition curator, told Reuters.

A portrait of Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth Bowes, taken in 1923 upon their engagement, is the opening work of the exhibition. The couple, of course, would later be crowned King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The portrait is presented near the official 2023 coronation portrait of King Charles.

The two portraits, Nasini pointed out, were taken exactly 100 years apart and between them, show the changes the medium of photography underwent during that time.

“We have analogue technology one side, digital technology (on the other), monochrome, colour and a private commission and the official,” Nasini said. He added there was another notable difference between the two works that the exhibition, as a whole, strives to point out: the range between “the very private to the very public, the official". The works touch upon some of the close relationships between the photographers and their royal subjects, most notably through photographs taken by Antony Armstrong-Jones, first Earl of Snowdon, who was married to Princess Margaret from 1960 to 1978.

Andy Warhol’s famous 1985 screen print of the late Queen Elizabeth II is also on display. The work has all the vibrancy expected from the US artist artist and utilises "diamond dust", or particles of crushed glass.

There are also photographs taken by Cecil Beaton. The British photographer was renowned for taking portraits of the royal family over many decades. His works were instrumental in presenting the monarchs to the public. The photographs on display include images of Princess Margaret, as well as portraits of the royal family taken during wartime.

A portrait of Kate, Princess of Wales, and wife of Prince William, taken to mark her 40th birthday, is displayed beside the work, the composition of which is inspired by a painting of Alexandra of Denmark, who also once had the title of Princess of Wales.

The works of several famous photographers are also on display, including portraits taken by Annie Leibovitz, Dorothy Wilding, David Bailey and Rankin. The exhibition also presents handwritten annotation of photographers to their correspondences with the Royal Family and their staff.

Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography is running at the King’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace until October 6

Updated: May 19, 2024, 11:16 AM