The British Royal Art Collection needs returning to the public

Monarchs are very good at collecting art, they can expropriate vast sums from the public to pay for it, they have huge homes to hang it in, they are well educated to appreciate it and it is a useful tool to aggrandise their own status. So where are the great royal art collections now?

Russia: State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.
France: The Louvre, Paris.
Spain: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.
Holland: Mauritshuis, Den Haag.
Austria Hungary Empire: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Saxony: Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
Great Britain: spread among the Queen’s various homes.

As you can see, one nation still has its national art treasures hidden from the public who paid for it. And what a collection it is, by far the largest “private” collection in the world. As far as we know (there is no publicly accessible inventory) it contains at least 7,000 paintings, 30,000 watercolours and drawings, and about 500,000 prints. By comparison the National Gallery in London has just 2,300 paintings.
We are talking about some amazing art. About 200 Dutch Golden Age pictures including 6 Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Frans Hals and 7 Jan Steens. An amazing British collection including 33 Gainsboroughs, 50 Thomas Lawrences, 20 Joshua Reynolds, 18 George Stubbs and 100 Landseers. From the Italian Renaissance there are 8 Raphaels (and a huge number of his drawings), 5 Tintorettos, 4 Titians, 3 Veroneses, 12 Giordanos and, famously 600 Leonardo da Vinci drawings, among many much more. And so it goes on. This one “private” collection is actually better than many of the world’s great public art galleries. It takes a staff of 29 curators and 32 conservationists to run it.

Admittedly the Queen loans out some of this work, admittedly there are exhibitions (£10 to get in, after we already paid for this work!) of small bits of the collection at the Queen’s Gallery, next to Buckingham Palace and admittedly you can glimpse some of it on guided tours of the royal palaces. But the vast majority is unavailable to the public. Even Buckingham Palace is only open to the public for two months a year. Which is all, frankly, immoral. That the Queen, purely as an accident of birth, gets to “own” a huge chunk of the world’s greatest art for her own entertainment, denying the people who paid for it access, really is utterly appalling.

We need change. The entire Royal art collection should be available online, to everyone, immediately. The National Gallery, Tate, British Museum and V&A need extensions, then the Royal collection needs moving into these public institutions, for the world to see. The National Gallery would become by far the worlds best art museum. Many, many times more people would visit Britain to see this than come to the UK to “see” the Royals. This amazing art would be seen by many millions of people every year. The Queen can put copies of the work up in her houses if she wants.

There is precedent for this, the National Library (then part of the British Museum) was gifted the King’s Library (65,000 books) in 1823 by King George IV as was the Old Royal Library (2,000 manuscripts), donated by King George II in 1757. So these are now public property for anyone to see. What is good enough for books must surely be good enough for art.

Another article on this subject HERE (click to open).

And the Republican point of view HERE.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Bruce,

    I am Tom from gallery Birkenfelds in Riga. I was surprised to see your website and start reading your articles with big interest. Hope many people are your followers and admirers. Since we meet last time my gallery twice change location. Now I am back in Old Town again – in Hotel Roma 4 th floor.
    Hope see you and Tamara one day.

    Best regards


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