In welcoming you all to the inauguration of the 14th exhibition to be held in what is still sometimes referred to as ‘the new Queen’s Gallery’, opened by Her Majesty not quite eight years ago, it may be appropriate to recall that my great-great-great-grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, were themselves avid exhibition-goers. More than that, Prince Albert must take a large share of the credit for the whole modern phenomenon of temporary exhibitions.
I am referring here not only to his masterminding of the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was visited even then by an amazing six million people, but also for his vital backing - supported by a frighteningly large loan from the Royal Collection - of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857. Interestingly, when Prince Albert spoke at the Royal Academy Annual Dinner in 1851, shortly after the opening of the Great Exhibition, he referred to the requirement for an atmosphere of kindness for the production of all works of art or poetry. And he said “An unkind word of criticism passes like a cold blast over their tender shoots, and shrinks them up, checking the flow of the sap which was rising to produce, perhaps, multitudes of flowers and fruit.”
I know that many of you will have shared my lifelong sense of admiration for Prince Albert. It is, if I may say so, a particular pleasure to be able to celebrate the artistic legacy of the remarkable duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the company of Their Highnesses Prince Andreas and Prince Hubertus, who are here this evening.
But I hope that this evening, as you have been enjoying the exhibition, you will have come to realize, as I have, how much of what we see here resulted from a truly wonderful partnership of two people. As one looks about the exhibition it becomes obvious that the Queen and Prince Albert were people whose love of the arts was absolutely central to their lives, and to their marriage. They celebrated every birthday, every anniversary and Christmas with gifts of art; they studied art together, played music together and they seem to have gained enormous pleasure, as indeed I do from my favourite artist Carl Haag.
Having asked Winterhalter to paint that marvellous picture, entitled “The First of May” showing the Duke of Wellington presenting a christening gift to Prince Arthur, later Duke of Connaught, in 1851, incidentally the Duke was Godfather to my mama. Queen Victoria found herself having to reply to her son’s enquiry 20 years later as to why he hadn’t received the gift shown in the painting. She wrote “Dear Papa & Winterhalter wished it to represent an Event – like Rubens & Paul Veronese did, periods of History – without any exact fact. It only shows how wrong in fact it is not to paint things as they really are.”
Speaking as the Chairman of the Royal Collection Trust, I am particularly pleased that this exhibition will provide another great opportunity for people to get to know and appreciate the Collection in all its amazing variety, not only by visiting The Queen’s Gallery, but through the Royal Collection website, where all these things can be explored in more detail, and by means of the numerous educational events that have been organized. I am delighted also that these include events undertaken for the first time in partnership with the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
As you can imagine, The exhibition is the result of three years of sustained work by Royal Collection curators, conservators, educators, editors, photographers and marketers. The works of art you see here have been brought from Balmoral, Osborne, Windsor, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Clarence House and even from Highgrove, as I know from the dirty marks left on the wall! It has been an enormous effort, and I am sure this will be justified by very substantial public interest and enjoyment. In thanking those responsible I also want to add our collective thanks to Sir Harry Djanogly, who not for the first time has generously supported the catalogue. So nothing can give me greater pleasure than opening this exhibition.