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The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visit the Australia Exhibition

5th December 2013

The Prince gives a speech at the Royal Academy of Arts

The Prince gives a speech at the Royal Academy of Arts

The Prince of Wales has praised Australia's "vivid natural beauty" and described battling lizards, snakes and leeches while travelling there in the 1960s.

His Royal Highness spoke at the Royal Academy of Arts after touring its new Australia exhibition with his wife The Duchess of Cornwall.

The show brings together 209 indigenous and colonial works spanning two Centuries and is the first major survey of Australian art in the UK for 50 years.

The Prince said: "I can hardly believe that it is now almost 50 years since I first visited Australia. I was deeply struck by the distinctive colours and light of Mackellar's 'sunburnt country'."

He told the packed reception he was "very touched and proud" to be the exhibition's patron and called the two terms he had spent touring the outback in 1966 "one of the most inspiring times of my life"

He said: "I can't say every day inspired my artistic interests, because countering goannas and snakes during hikes in the searing heat, and being covered in leeches which could only be got off by using a cigarette, never moved me to paint.

"But my love of Australia - Australia's vivid natural beauty, and its own particular quality of light - that's what I always find so fascinating - has stayed with me for 50 years, and is new each time I visit."

The Prince and Duchess meet children from Argyle Primary School participating in an art workshop at the Royal Academy of Arts

The Prince and Duchess meet children from Argyle Primary School participating in an art workshop at the Royal Academy of Arts

The pair were led around by curator Kathleen Soriano and artist Shaun Gladwell, whose video Approach to Mundi Mundi - which shows him riding on a motorcycle into a vast Australian plain with outstretched arms - forms the opening of the exhibition.

They also met living relatives of artists Arthur Boyd and Albert Naratjira, who gave a painting to The Queen on her 21st birthday, and whose grandchildren Vincent and Lenie invited amateur artist The Prince to come and paint with them in Australia.

Mr Boyd's grandson Alexander, 41, said The Prince had made "very interesting comments" about his grandfather's work and had a "fluent exchange" about its meaning.

Mr Gladwell agreed he had been "very quick": when the artist explained his debt to Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, he said The Prince replied "Of course! But I didn't see you stick your legs out."

Later, pupils from Argyle Primary School in Camden showed off their imitations of aboriginal art, while Assia Lamani, nine, presented The Duchess with a bouquet of white flowers.