See The Royal Family In A New Light At This Brand New Exhibition

By Olivia Emily

3 months ago

Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography showcases over 150 photographs


Portraiture has played a crucial role in shaping the world’s perception of our history – and the most portrayed individuals are undoubtedly royal families, swiftly followed by other wealthy members of high society. But as technology became more sophisticated and the camera surpassed the painter’s ability to capture one’s likeness, photographs became the more likely images of famous figures we see – and this is the subject of The King’s Gallery’s first exhibition: Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography.

Over the last century, the British Royal Family has been captured on camera, bringing an unprecedentedly candid dimension to one of the world’s most famous families. And the public can now enjoy the best of the photographs at a brand new exhibition gathering more than 150 photographic prints, proofs and documents from the Royal Collection and the Royal Archives. Hosted at Buckingham Palace’s The King’s Gallery (previously known as The Queen’s Gallery), and curated by Alessandro Nasini, here’s exactly what to expect from Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography.

A photograph of Princess Margaret

Cecil Beaton, Princess Margaret, 1949. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2024.

What To Expect At Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography

At Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography, visitors can expect to witness the work of some of the most celebrated royal photographers, from Cecil Beaton and Dorothy Wilding to Annie Leibovitz and Rankin. Beginning in the 1920s, 150 vintage photographs will balance the grandeur and tradition of monarchy with an unprecedented sense of intimacy and relatability, with most never before on public display.

Meanwhile, the changing status of photography as an art form rather than a documentation tool will come to light, showcasing the 1920s and 30s golden age of the society photographer. Moving to the post-war era, the exhibition will shine a light on the technological advances that led to a boom in photographic studios, while members of the British and European Royal Families were among the ‘Bright Young Things’ eager to be captured on camera.

An annotated photograph of the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, Proof with handwritten instructions, 1958. Photograph: Antony Armstrong-Jones. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2024

Perhaps the most notable photographer of the British royal family was Cecil Beaton, who captured the Coronation portraits of Queen Elizabeth II – arguably the most prestigious photography commission of the century. The exhibition will feature some of Beaton’s most memorable photographs, spanning six decades, including Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s famed 1939 shoot in the Buckingham Palace Gardens, dressed in her ‘White Wardrobe’ by Norman Hartnell.

Cecil Beaton, Queen Elizabeth, 1939

Cecil Beaton, Queen Elizabeth, 1939. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2024

Throughout, visitors will catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes process of commissioning, selecting and retouching royal portraits. Especially in the case of Beaton, photographers’ handwritten annotations will be displayed, plus never-before-seen correspondence with members of the Royal Family and their staff. Perhaps the closest (and most famous) example of the relationship between royal sitters and photographers is that of Antony Armstrong-Jones and Princess Margaret, who married in the 1960s; a selection of images taken before and during their marriage will hint at the depths of the trust between them.

Andy Warhol, Reigning Queens (Royal Edition): Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

Andy Warhol, Reigning Queens (Royal Edition): Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, 1985. © 2024 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Licensed by DACS, London.

Moving towards the present day, innovations in digital and colour photography evidently revolutionised photography, with the discipline of photo-taking becoming an art form in its own right. Here, expect to see a world of colour, playfulness and variety, including Andy Warhol’s diamond-dust-sprinkled screenprint of Queen Elizabeth II, plus famed photographs by Rankin, David Bailey, Nick Knight, Annie Leibovitz and more.

‘This is the first exhibition from the Royal Collection entirely dedicated to modern portrait photography, an artistic medium that has helped to shape how the world views the British monarchy,’ says curator Nasini. ‘We are excited for visitors to discover the beauty and materiality of these original prints, many on display for the first time, and we hope they will also enjoy a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creative process behind some of these iconic royal images.’

When?

17 May–6 October 2024

Where?

The King’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA

BOOK IT

Tickets for Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography can be booked at rct.uk

£1 tickets are available to anyone in receipt of the following: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Pension Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, or Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can claim £1 tickets for up to six people per household, and only one person per household needs to show supporting documents. Find out more at rtc.uk