Thanks to a decade-long process of upgrading Buckingham Palace’s pipes and electrical systems, the Picture Gallery is temporarily being emptied of its many priceless artworks. Sixty-five of them, including paintings by Titian, Vermeer, and Rembrandt, will be displayed in a new exhibition called “Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace.”
As Smithsonian.com explains, it’s not technically the first time the public is getting a chance to see the art. Visitors are allowed to walk through the Picture Gallery—as well as 18 other State Rooms and the palace garden—every year between July and October. That said, it’s hard to spend much time with the paintings during such an expansive tour, and the room itself isn’t optimized for studying them very closely. As Desmond Shawe-Taylor, official surveyor of the Queen’s pictures, told The Guardian, some of the artworks are even double-stacked, so you might have to crane your neck to appreciate the ones hung higher on the wall.
In other words, “Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace” is the first opportunity for people to see the paintings in a gallery setting, rather than as decorations in an already opulent palace. To say that these works deserve their own exhibition is something of an understatement; The Music Lesson, for example—a subtly suggestive depiction of a young lady and her music teacher—is one of only a few dozen surviving paintings by Johannes Vermeer. And Rembrandt’s 1633 portrait The Shipbuilder and His Wife is supposedly Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite painting, though Shawe-Taylor declined to verify the long-held rumor.
According to a press release from the Royal Collection Trust, the exhibition will also include information about the history of the Picture Gallery and Buckingham Palace’s impressive art collection. King George III and Queen Charlotte purchased Buckingham House back in 1762, and their son George IV hired architect John Nash to convert it into a palace about 60 years later. Since George IV was an avid art collector (he purchased more than half the paintings that will be featured in the upcoming exhibition), Nash developed the Picture Gallery for him.
“Masterpieces from Buckingham Palace” will open at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace on December 4, 2020, and you can visit through January 2022.