Dutch life and great satire at the Queen’s Gallery London

The Royal Collection is the British Royal Family’s art collection and is one of the largest and most important in the world. This holds so many pieces that only a fraction can be on display at any one time in the royal palaces across the UK. The Queen’s Gallery holds exhibitions throughout the year, curated to show a different range of these precious works.

Their new exhibitions bring together Dutch art and Georgian caricatures linked by kings George III and IV who were art collectors and the subject of the cartoons. The Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer’ presents 27 of the Royal Collection’s finest Dutch paintings. My eye is always drawn to Rembrandt’s paintings, there’s something about his use of light to illuminate faces that is so powerful. I was rewarded with several in this show:

Rembrandt’s Rabbi with a Cap

Rembrandt’s Agatha Bas

Rembrandt’s An Old Woman called the Artist’s Mother

Desmond Shaw Taylor, the curator, explained how they had chosen to use plain walls, popular at the time, to display the key painting in one of the exhibition rooms which certainly contrasts with the lush blue of the walls in the other display room.

Unusual plain grey walls

We saw popular painters from the 17th and 18th century such as Gerrit Dou, Peter Bruegel the Elder and Jan Steen as well as Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch who both took Dutch genre painting to a new level of brilliance.  Genre paintings capture everyday life, ordinary scenes and these painters bring extraordinary detail to their work.

Pieter de Hooch

Johannes Vermeer

Both George III and IV were keen collectors, paying high prices to secure these works as well as Sevres porcelain and fine French furniture, examples of which are on display around the rooms.

The accompanying exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson showcases the brilliant work of Thomas who was one of the most popular and wittiest caricaturists of Georgian Britain, poking fun at the kings who collected the fine works we’ve just seen as well as the politics, fashions and mores of the time. Rowlandson was inspired by Dutch art and although seen to be a cartoonist was a fine artist as this exhibition shows.

From showing the public criticism the Prince of Wales for his drunken behaviour during his father George III’s illness to laughing at the misfortunes of the Duke of York, these drawings give us a great insight into the gossip of the time. I loved the drawing of the Duke of York, who had been caught up in a huge love scandal and had to resign amid the public humiliation of his love letters being published. Here he is pleading with a whale that had been found in the Thames to help keep him out the headlines which feels very modern!

The Prince of Wales dancing at his father’s sick bed

This cartoon lampoons the Duchess of Devonshire who was rumoured to be trading kisses for votes at a time when canvassing outside of one’s family was considered unseemly for a woman. Here in this cartoon which was damaging to her reputation, she is kissing a butcher. Given our own political scandals of votes for cash in parliament, these again feels very contemporary.

Most Approved Method of Securing Votes

His sense of humour shines through and the man himself was great company and a popular man in society which makes for an enjoyable exhibition.  He went to the Royal Academy school and his skill shines through.

One of the things I love about the Queen’s Gallery is their education room where they bring fun and interest for younger visitors. One example of how they do this is shown below where they have picked out a section of painting to encourage the viewer to look at the detail not just the overall impression of a work.  Here the game in the corner of the painting is highlighted, something I had missed in the main gallery.

The exhibitions are on until 14th February 2016 and for more information click here.

Disclaimer: I was invited to visit the gallery for free and the curator tour was part of this.

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