Better value than a trip to the cinema.
If you're not in the know, Charles I spent ridiculously big on art, had great taste, and his collection was top notch. When his head got lopped, his fantastic gathering of art and beautiful objects was hastily sold off and scattered. Speed forward, and the Royal Academy have managed to bring back together an impressive cross section of this extraordinary collection, including pieces not usually on public view, and some from collections held across the world.
I'd not intended to see the exhibition, but then found myself in London, with time to kill. Having heard so much about the it, and recently seen Andrew Graham-Dixon’s BBC series about Royal art collecting, it was in my mind, so I decided to indulge myself.
At £20 a ticket, unless you qualify for some form of concession (which I did), it may feel steep, but I figured that if I managed an hour, hour and a half, OK, it would cost more than a cinema trip, but it was to see a collection of art in exceptional circumstances, which made it seem worthwhile. As it turns out, I effortlessly lost two hours, and would have happily managed another 40 minutes or so had I not had a friend waiting to meet me.
Armour, tasteful boobs, cherubs, urns.
Admittedly you do need to be a fan of Art By The Masters, with Titian, Holbein, Van Dyck, Rubens etc, because this is an exhibition of heavy hitters all in that vein. I genuinely think that seeing some of these pieces in the flesh could convert people to fans, along with discovering their beautiful depths thanks to the careful drips of interpretation, but this might all be too much in one go if you're not keen to begin with. There are a lot of big paintings of blokes in armour and/or women with their clothes dropping off. Cherubs and urns too.
For followers of classical art though, or people with even a broad glancing interest, the individual pieces are each remarkable, and the ability to see them side by side heightens their beauty and enables you to appreciate Charles’ canny collecting skills.
The real highlights for me were some of the smaller treasures which are gathered together. These delicately painted miniatures and smaller figures are the kind of items Charles would have taken time to show to those who he favoured. Holbein's sketches drew me back multiple times, finally seeing for myself something quite a few art programmes have teased me with on the screen.
I might have looked like I was casing the place planning to steal them.
Finally, I try to sound like I understand Exhibition Design.
With so many pieces of art which stop you in your tracks and demand your attention, the exhibition is well laid out to allow you to flow from one piece to the next without it feeling like a barrage (barring the first room, which bottlenecks horribly) Some pieces are accompanied by an audio commentary, and may have benefited from extra display space, as they cause more people to spend more time stood in front of them, which can block access to neighboring paintings a little. The Triumphs of Caesar and Tapestries being given their own rooms makes sense, as this is how they were intended to be seem, writ large and as the focus, and it means they aren't stealing the limelight from smaller pieces trying to share space with them.
Interpretation is just right, enough to provide some context about the Royal family as collectors (“oh, she had that in her private rooms she liked it that much?”) and the artists themselves, but without pouring too much in your brain given the quantity on display. The gallery map/notes you receive on entry contain a useful timeline of Charles’ life and events, so you can place the collection against the backdrop of his disastrous handling of his position.
So although I can't tell you much about painting techniques, or the hidden meanings and symbology in the paintings, or what the collection reveals about the psychology of Charles, I can say that you won't be able to see a collection of masterpieces like this for a long long time, and it's well worth a gander before its final day on April 15th.
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