President, Ladies and Gentlemen, I know all of you are dying to go through the exhibition, I know it’s been very unfair on you because I’ve been allowed to see it on my own!
So I do apologise but I just wanted to say how marvellous it has been over the last-I’m afraid I stretched it beyond half an hour-to see pictures which, perhaps as you can imagine, have become old friends since I can remember on the walls of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and indeed Clarence House, represented here with such remarkable skill and to explore the effect in this, I think, utterly spellbinding exhibition. And like many of you here this evening I have always been absolutely fascinated by the history of King Charles I’s incomparable collection, paintings and works of art brought together with such enthusiasm and connoisseurship and of course scattered so tragically after the king’s death.
The extraordinary effect this collection had on all who saw it in its heyday is probably well known and collectors all over Europe were well aware of the King’s nose and eye for good pictures. Reubens, for instance, one of the kings favourite painters, and himself no mean connoisseur, was reportedly bowled over by the incredible quantity of excellent pictures he saw in the king’s collection, among them many works by many of the greatest names: Titian, Leonardo and Rafael to name just a few, and the painters Charles I commissioned himself, above all Van Dyck, have given us the clearest possible view of the imperiousness, and some would say the character, of the king, his family, and his court.
Now I suspect many of us must have longed to be time travellers back to the 17th century just to glimpse for a brief moment this great collection, but now thanks to the heroic efforts of all those involved in this overwhelmingly lovely exhibition we are able to get a real idea of what King Charles I was aiming to do in bringing to these shores for the first time some of the greatest works of art in existence. From France, Italy, Spain, and from Northern Europe, Charles I began a transformation of this country’s cultural life. In company with his contemporaries the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Arundel, he established a tradition of collecting which has endured. And as The President has said, 88 of the 140 exhibits in this exhibition have been lent by Her Majesty The Queen and have come from the Royal Collection.
A few escaped, dispersed in the 17th century sales, others were reacquired later. And these alone form I think a wonderful testament to the king's eye and taste. But thanks to the very great generosity of other lenders, notably the Prado and the Louvre, to whom we are immensely grateful, many outstanding pictures and other works of art form Charles I’s collection have returned, some for the very first time since the 17th century, to add many layers of richness and delight.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are fortunate indeed to be in the first generation in nearly 370 years, to appreciate them as my ancestors once did. So thank you, all of you, for all the part you have played in making this great exhibition possible.