The Queen's Gallery, opened 40 years ago to exhibit treasures from the Royal Collection, has recently reopened following a £20 million expansion and refurbishment, the most significant addition to Buckingham Palace in 150 years.
A new neo-classical portico gives prominence to the hitherto obscure entrance on Buckingham Palace Road. Seven galleries have been added plus a lecture theatre, education room, and interactive computer room, granting greater public access at no cost to the taxpayer, all monies being raised from admission to royal residences and retailing enterprises.
The entrance hall boasts a classical allegorical frieze by Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart, representing the 50 peaceful years of the Queen's reign, contrasted with turbulent world events. The Discord Frieze, for example, symbolises the Cold War by depicting The Iliad's Rage of Achilles.
Ranking the long friezes are four relief panels depicting the patron saints of the British Isles. St David is portrayed blessing bees, St Patrick casting out serpents, and Ss George and Andrew in the company of scientist and artist respectively.
At the top of a grand staircase is Stoddart's life-size bust of the Queen at the time of her Coronation, heralding entrance to the galleries. The inaugural exhibition displays 450 outstanding works of art from nine royal residences, collected by monarchs over five centuries.
One of the earliest masters exhibited is Hans Holbein the Younger's superbly vivid Noli me Tangere. There is also Georges de la Tours' famed portrait of St Jerome and a fine portrait of Pope Pius VII by Sir Thomas Lawrence, commissioned by George VI as part of a series of European figures involved in Napoleon's demise. It normally hangs in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.
Under George III's patronage, Johan Zoffany spent five years recreating the Medici collection of The Tribuna of the Uffizi, a commission from Queen Charlotte. A smaller gallery, displaying drawings and manuscripts, includes the magnificent Sobieski Book of Hours, the Mainz Psalter, the Divan-I-Khaqan, and Eric Gill's Four Gospels, printed by the Golden Cockerel Press in 1931. There are many fine drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Carracci and Raphael. Holbein's black and coloured chalk portrait of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1527, captures a distinct world-weary look he opposed Henry VIII's divorce proceedings.
Contemporary art is also featured, including Lucian Freud's controversially small portrait of the Queen in 2001, wearing the diamond diadem, depicted on postage stamps. Other modern pieces include a splendid pencil drawing of Graham Greene in 1989 by Humphrey Ocean and Graham Sutherland's The Armillary Sphere, commissioned as a gift in 1957 for the President of Portugal, incorporating symbols from both countries. Sutherland made a copy for Prince Philip, a keen collector of modern art.
Cabinet rooms provide an intimate space for fabulous objets d'art. A stunning collection of miniatures includes a study of a youthful Mary Queen of Scots resplendent in pink and the Nicholas Hilliard portrait of Elizabeth I.
One of the greatest treasures is the splendid Duccio portable triptych, 1308-11; its central panel portraying the Crucifixion. The Annunciation, Mary, Seat of Wisdom, St Francis receiving the stigmata, and the Coronation of Our Lady and all the Saints are depicted on the side panels in this richly painted devotional work, acquired by Prince Albert.
Superbly lit, the exhibition is a breathtaking experience not to be missed.