Textiles and prints : King and Collector exhibition at the RA

Posted by on Apr 7, 2018 in Discussion | 0 comments

Charles King and Collector  – Exhibition at RA

Van Dyck

I visited the wonderful and thought-provoking exhibition of the royal art collection of Charles I, soon to end at the Royal Academy, much of it reunited for the first time since the sale of the collection after the King’s death.

A good way to see beautiful art and brush up (or learn) history. It was surely a seismic event for the king to be beheaded and then, only eleven years later, for the new king to be installed, the monarchy restored, yet now this tumultuous and painful period in history can be summed up in a couple of lines. Would his older brother Henry – apparently ‘brilliant’ and ‘charismatic’ have made a better fist of things? 

Charles I was  a weak and capricious king – now it’s hard to understand how he could be so consistently dim and utterly incompetent, endlessly provoking Parliament unnecessarily. The Duke of Buckingham seemed to be able to make crass mistake after crass mistake without the king realising what a liability he was. George Villiers (named in a number of roads round London) was eventually assassinated.

Whatever his limitations as a king, Charles had  a deep appreciation of art and had a sophisticated strategy to collect great pieces. He was inspired by a visit to the Court of Spain during some protracted and ultimately futile marriage negotiations, to emulate his host and start collecting in earnest. He then took on professional advisers and bought discerningly and well. 

Charles’  collection ranged from tapestries to miniatures. There are some wonderful Hans Holbein portraits  – drawings and paintings. The faces are full of character and individuality,  you feel they could easily break into speech and possibly have life beyond the paper or wood.  

Charles was well served by his court painter, Anthony van Dyck. There is not even a hint that things were not well with the monarch and his realm from the serenity of the paintings. It was sad to see that Van Dyck died so young – his last self-portrait again betrayed nothing of the nearness of his death – he looked carefree and healthy. He clearly had an eye for the commercial (good for him) and focused on portraiture because it was so much better paid than, for example, printmaking. Apparently his plates were used and copied for many years after his death.

Like all blockbusters, the exhibition was quite crowded but the size of the rooms at the RA lessens the impact of this and enable the huge pieces – like the Mantegna ‘Triumph of Caesar’ – to be shown in a way that trumpets their magnificence. 

Go quickly – it ends soon. 

 

 

 

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