What really excites the Lowry-buying monarch who once said “I have no taste”?
As the heavy crown of England weighed down on her on Coronation Day in 1953, Elizabeth Windsor was transfigured into a dynastic icon. As with her Elizabethan namesake, she has since cloaked a sphinx-like inscrutability. We know no more of their personal tastes or aesthetic preferences than the horses and headscarves and Balmoral heather, electric heaters and crimson carpets featured in photos and television appearances.
The royal collection of superlatives with paintings, sculptures and palaces forms the background and fabric of their daily lives. Most of the more than 5,550 acquisitions made during her reign and listed in the Trust’s archives consist of fortuitous gifts and gifts from foreign and British dignitaries: a basket from Tonga in 1954, a jar of grain from Canada. The Queen is said to have said, while the Prince of Wales regretted their quantity and quality: “I have no taste so I’m delighted with them.” But her own purchases remain almost entirely new territory.
“If everything you have heard is true, you would think that the pinnacle of your artistic desire should be Stubbs, but perhaps it is Sir Alfred Munnings?” style commentator Peter York speculates
“If everything you’ve heard is true, you would think that the pinnacle of your artistic desire should be Stubbs, but perhaps it is Sir Alfred Munnings?” speculates style commentator Peter York. Her beloved royal maid “Crawfie” (Marion Crawford) tells us that Princess Elizabeth was obsessed with horses and has kept racing, breeding and horseback riding ever since. New Zealand, America and Canada all gave her small equestrian bronzes. Slovenia did the same, combining their 2008 gift with a live Lipizzaner stallion. Munnings designed miniatures for the dining room of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House in the 1930s, and two of her magnificent stubs form the background for a rather fine oil painting The Queen at Breakfast in Windsor, painted by Prince Philip in 1965. But her own purchase in this year – spotted by Arnold Machin after she casually asked his opinion of the artist during a portrait for the Royal Mint – a Lowry was almost the only clue we have to collect them.
With her job came ready-made houses, the first being a two-story cottage the size of a Wendy house, given as a gift from the Welsh people when she was six. The throne meant life between Buckingham Palace and the more private Windsor Castle (she had hoped to live at Clarence House, with the palace as her office). Chatsworth was like home – she complimented her hostess during a visit – but much more comfortable.
But in most matters of taste she delegates. Just as the prince consort had done a century earlier, Philip took charge of their accommodation, beginning with the floating palace that was to be the royal yacht Britannia. The royal couple recruited architect and designer Hugh Casson, the impresario behind the Festival of Britain, with a modernizing – if not modernist – agenda to rework its formal, Edwardian designs for something progressive, relaxed and contemporary, their “home away from home”. “.
Away from their state palaces, the Norfolk mansion of Sandringham and Balmoral Castle in Scotland represent their unpretentious ideal with brown furniture, Edwardian field sports and a full complement of servants
“The Queen is a meticulous observer with very precise views on everything from the door handles to the shape of the lampshades,” Casson noted. He became her interior designer of choice and introduced a lighter, classic country style to Buckingham Palace, Windsor and Sandringham, which included a guest suite in the Edward III Tower in Windsor, which featured works by contemporary British designers such as ceramist Lucie Rie. But while the Queen was officially the final authority on taste here, everything had been pre-selected by Philip and Anthony Blunt, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, while Windsor’s post-fire restoration of 1992-1997 was overseen by a committee that Philip also chaired Board .
Away from their state palaces, the Norfolk mansion of Sandringham and Balmoral Castle in Scotland represent their unpretentious ideal with brown furniture, Edwardian field sports and a full complement of servants. At Balmoral, a nervous Windsor cleric recalls a macaroni and mincemeat lunch, and when Machin was taking her portrait there, he saw her knitting after dinner, surrounded by her friends and Scottish cousins. In front of her plate was a silver box of dog biscuits; At royal picnics, the lady-in-waiting, Anne Glenconner, would watch her prepare salads and wash up.
A tray full of tiaras
Instead, the Queen exercises her royal prerogative in areas where she excels: regalia and portraits. Princess Margaret’s marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones, Earl of Snowdon provided her with an excellent picture maker and photographer, modern medieval pageantry (Prince Charles Investiture at Caernarvon Castle) and industrial design.
She understands jewels, crowns and how to style them. Machin recalled trying on a tray full of tiaras before his portrait sat, and she complained to Noël Coward that the oversized investiture crown, commissioned by the Garter King of Arms, was like a candle snuffer on Charles’s head looked. Cecil Beaton had been her mother’s favorite photographer, but the Queen recognized Tony Snowdon’s brilliance and retained his services from the 1950s long after his divorce.
She liked Machin’s relief portrait for the Royal Mint and subsequent adaptation to match its likeness on postage stamps, as did his tortuous cameo of Prince Charles in the 1970s and other royal portraits for Wedgwood. But postage stamps, with their miniaturized heraldry tantamount to a royal logo, have been important since the time of their philatelic grandfather, George V. When Tony Benn was her Postmaster General, she refused artist and illustrator David Gentleman’s attempt to completely remove her head from her design. As Gentleman simplified her likeness to the Machin profile, Benn spread his designs out on the Buckingham Palace carpet to her approval. These are the iconic images she chooses and worries about, and not those of Lucian Freud, Rolf Harris or Chris Levine.
She complained to Noël Coward that the oversized investiture crown commissioned by the Garter King of Arms looked like a candle snuffer on Charles’ head
Furthermore, those who know will not or cannot tell – John Betjeman, Hugh Casson, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, all dead, the keepers of her artwork and waiting confidants who keep her secrets. Freighted and weighed down with the ghostly, ostentatious furniture and contraptions of her royalty, her Leonardo drawings, Holbeins and Van Dycks, she nonetheless seems a creature embodied with perfect common sense, both apologetic and “over” taste. We know her as we are allowed to know her, from television and the coins in our pockets, or falling in love with the brilliant fantasy character of Alan Bennett’s dramatic homage, A question of attributionthe queen who reveals her discreet connoisseurship only in front of Blunt, her surveyor.