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A Century of Photography a fine exhibition awash with glamour and famous faces : Royal Portraits

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Published Time: 16.05.2024 - 02:40:33 Modified Time: 16.05.2024 - 02:40:33

The first exhibition at the newly renamed King’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace takes the photographers as seriously as their high-born sitters Royal Collection Trust, Antony Armstrong-Jones This show of official royal portrait photography – the first exhibition at the newly renamed King’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace – could have been so stilted, yet isn’t

The first exhibition at the newly renamed King’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace takes the photographers as seriously as their high-born sitters

: Royal Collection Trust, Antony Armstrong-Jones

This show of official royal portrait photography – the first exhibition at the newly renamed King’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace – could have been so stilted, yet isn’t. The secret of its success? It takes the photographers as seriously as their high-born sitters, and traces the trajectory of a medium over the past century, as immaculate soft-focus effects, achieved within the studio by practitioners with first names such as Bertram and Olive, gave way to something more intimate and informal.

Of course, Royal Portraits – which includes, among 160 vintage prints, several unseen images – is awash with glamour and familiar faces: how could an exhibition containing dozens of shots by Cecil Beaton be anything but? Its early sections are a numinous, natty haze of tulle and taffeta gowns, fur stoles, and peaked lapels; later, Princess Margaret – sometimes bare-shouldered, always brilliant-eyed – displays a film star’s smouldering poise. Likewise, Princess Diana, who appears three times: once, in playful maternal mode; twice, flirtatiously close-up. (Queen Camilla pops up in four photographs.)

It takes the King a little longer to demonstrate such ease in front of the camera. A double portrait by Beaton captures him as a chubby boy sitting beneath his angular father, who dwarfs him; delicately, a label refers to the “paternal dynamic”. Nearby, in a portrait released to mark his 18th birthday, he comes across as sweet but gawky.

: 2024 The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visula Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS, London

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