Buckingham Palace isn’t just the Queen’s London digs or a place where tourists are guaranteed a photo of British pageantry in all its bearskinned pomp. The palace also includes the 47 metre long Picture Gallery, created by John Nash during the 1820s. This is one of the state rooms that can be visited during the summer opening and is full of museum quality art. The pictures on show make a visit worthwhile even without all the other objets d’art, furniture and architecture on display throughout the palace. A visit during the summer opening shouldn’t be restricted to ardent Royalists.
The hang in the top-lit gallery does change regularly, but currently a Canaletto of the Doge’s Palace greets you as you enter. This is followed quickly by a Rembrandt self-portrait and across the room, a Vermeer. A Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman entered the collection misattributed to Frans van Mieris the Elder and remained so until 1866. The picture doesn’t sing and feels oddly cluttered, but it is one of only 34 known Vermeers in existence.
Other big names on display include Van Dyk, Rubens and Carravaggio, although a bass viol player by Hendrick ter Bruggen acquired by Charles I grabs the attention half way down the room – which is so long it was designed to be heated by four marble fireplaces.
Other rooms that can be visited include the throne room, several drawing rooms and the ballroom. The state dining room seems very grand with views over the garden, but is actually only used for informal dinners. An odd mock-up of Prince Leopold’s christening cake is on display, along with an artwork showing the original celebrations at which it was presented. (BTW if you’re not up on your royal family trees, Prince Leopold was the eighth child of Queen Victoria). You’ll see a lot of chandeliers as you wander through the State rooms, as well as sculptures by Canova, exquisite examples of Sevres porcelain and some fine English and French furniture.
This year there is a temporary exhibition entitled Royal Childhood. This brings together toys, clothes and other items owned by the nine generations of children who have lived in the Palace over the last 250 years. This show does need a strong Royalist streak to appreciate but has inspired a family pavilion on the west terrace. Here are activities and games for a variety of ages, including a rocking horse and costumes – although it has restricted opening hours in September, so check before you go if you want to dress up.