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Exhibition Review: Queen Victoria’s Palace at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace from 20 July to 29 September 2019

To mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria, a special exhibition entitled Queen Victoria’s Palace at Buckingham Palace tells the story of how the young monarch transformed a neglected royal residence into the centre of the social, cultural and official life of the country.

When Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, she decided to move into Buckingham Palace, despite the building being incomplete and many of the rooms undecorated and unfurnished. The Palace had been left empty for seven years following the death of George IV, the King never occupied the Palace but had great plans to turn the palace into a grand building based on the designs of John Nash. George IV’s successor William IV lived at Clarence House during his short reign and the Queen’s ministers advised her to stay at Kensington Palace until Buckingham Palace was finally completed.

Despite being only 18, Victoria had the strength of character to ignore the advice and move into Buckingham Palace, in 1840 Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and began the development of the royal residence to be suitable for both official and family life.

As Victoria’s family grew, so did Buckingham Palace with money granted from Parliament in 1846. In 1847 the architect Edward Blore was commissioned to draw up plans for alterations to Buckingham Palace and between 1847 and 1849, the East Wing was added at the front, enclosing an open, courtyard and introducing the now famous central balcony.

The first part of the exhibition explores this process with paintings, drawings, costumes with a number of personal items from Victoria’s family. It also features some of the social events that began to be promoted at the Palace like The Stuart Ball of 1851.

A new Ballroom was added to the State Rooms to enable Victoria’s wish for a space to entertain the many visitors. The Palace’s new Ballroom and Ball Supper Room were completed in 1856, and measuring 33.5 metres long and 18 metres wide. the Ballroom was the largest room in the Palace. On 17 June of that year, a Ball was held to mark the end of the Crimean War and honour the returning soldiers.

The Ball of 1856, has been recreated for visitors using a Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost and a series of digital projections around the Ballroom. Four couples seem to appear performing a waltz, whilst the digital projections transform the walls and ceilings with decorations allowing visitors to imagine both spaces as Victoria and Albert would have known them.

Victoria also transformed the kitchens to enable the Palace’s 45 chefs to demonstrate their culinary skills. In the State Dining Room, the table is dressed with items from the ‘Victoria’ pattern dessert service, purchased by the Queen from the stand of Minton & Co. at the Great Exhibition in 1851, and the Alhambra table fountain, a silver-gilt and enamel centrepiece commissioned by Victoria and Albert from R & S Garrard in the same year.

On pieces of silver-gilt from the Grand Service, commissioned by Victoria’s uncle, George IV, sit replica desserts based on a design by Charles Elme Francatelli, Queen Victoria’s Chief Cook.

This fascinating exhibition illustrates the role of Victoria in making Buckingham Palace what it is today. A unloved building was transformed into the headquarters of the Monarchy, a focal point for national celebrations and a family home. Victoria also created a place to entertain hundreds and sometimes thousands of guests at one time creating traditions that still endure, such as appearances by the Royal Family on the balcony at the front of the Palace and the annual summer Garden Parties.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information or book tickets, visit the Royal Collection website here

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