Royal Collection

MichelangeloThe Resurrection, 1532)
Raphael Cartoons, The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, c. 1515, on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum since the 19th century
TitianPortrait of Jacopo Sannazaro (1514–18)

The Royal Collection is the art collection of the British Royal Family and the largest private art collection in the world.[1][2]

Spread among 13 occupied and historic royal residences in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the collection is owned by Queen Elizabeth II[3] and overseen by the Royal Collection Trust, a branch of the Royal Household. The Queen owns some objects in the collection in right of the Crown and some as a private individual.[4] It is made up of over one million objects,[5] including 7,000 paintings, 30,000 watercolours and drawings, and about 500,000 prints,[5][6] as well as photographs, tapestries, furniture, ceramics, books, sculptures, and the Crown Jewels.

Some of the buildings which house the collection, like Hampton Court Palace, are open to the public and not lived in by the Royal Family, whilst others, like Windsor Castle, are both residences and open to the public. The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace in London was built specially to exhibit pieces from the collection on a rotating basis. There is a similar art gallery next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and a Drawings Gallery at Windsor Castle. The Crown Jewels are on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.

About 3,000 objects are on loan to museums throughout the world, and many others are loaned on a temporary basis to exhibitions.[5]


Rubens: Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism, c. 1618–30 in the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Few items from before King Henry VIII survive. The most important additions to the collection were made by Charles I, a passionate collector of Italian paintings, and a major patron of Van Dyck and other artists. His collection was sold after his execution in 1649, but large numbers of works were recovered for the collection after the Restoration of 1660, when the Dutch Republic also presented Charles II with the Dutch Gift, and Charles later bought many paintings and other works.

George III, with the assistance of Frederick Augusta Barnard, added very large numbers, including tens of thousands of books and manuscripts,[7] and Queen Victoria and her husband Albert were keen collectors of contemporary and old master paintings. Many works have been given from the collection to museums, especially by George III and Victoria and Albert. In particular, most of the then royal library was given by George III to the British Museum, now the British Library, where many books are still catalogued as "Royal". The core of this collection was the purchase by James I of the related collections of Humphrey Llwyd, Lord Lumley, and the Earl of Arundel.[8]

Throughout the reign of Elizabeth II (1952–present), there have been significant additions to the collection through judicious purchases, bequests and through gifts from nation states and other official bodies.[9] The Commonwealth is strongly represented in this manner: an example is the 75 contemporary Canadian watercolours that entered the collection between 1985 and 2001, a gift from the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour.


A full inventory of the Royal Collection has never been made available to the public, though there are published catalogues of parts of the collection, especially paintings, and a database on the Royal Collection website is increasingly comprehensive.

Paintings, prints and drawings

The collection's holdings of Western fine art are amongst the largest and most important assemblages in existence, with works of the highest quality, and in many cases artists whose works can not be fully understood without a study of the holdings contained within the Royal Collection. Numbering over 7,000 works, spread across the Royal Residences, the collection is also arguably amongst the world's oldest in terms of provenance. The collection does not claim to provide a comprehensive, chronological survey of Western fine art but it has been shaped by the individual tastes of kings, queens and their families over the last 500 years.


Numbering over 300 items, the Royal Collection holds one of the greatest and most important collections of French furniture ever assembled. The collection is noted for its encyclopedic range as well as counting the greatest cabinet-makers of the Ancien Régime.

Ornaments and décor


The Royal Collection is privately owned, although some of the works are displayed in areas of palaces and other royal residences open to visitors for the public to enjoy.[12] Some of the collection is owned by the monarch personally, and everything else is described as being held in trust by the monarch in right of the Crown. All works of art acquired by monarchs up to the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 are heirlooms which fall into the latter category. Items the British royal family acquired later, including official gifts,[13] can be added to that part of the collection by a monarch at his or her discretion. Ambiguity surrounds the status of objects that have come into Queen Elizabeth II's possession during her reign.[14] The Royal Collection Trust has confirmed that all pieces left to the Queen by the Queen Mother belong to her personally.[15]

Non-personal items are said to be inalienable as they can only be willed to the monarch's successor. The legal accuracy of this claim has never been substantiated in court.[16] According to Cameron Cobbold, then Lord Chamberlain, speaking in 1971, minor items have occasionally been sold to help raise money for acquisitions, and duplicates of items are given away as presents within the Commonwealth.[14] In a 2000 television interview, the Duke of Edinburgh said that the Queen was "technically, perfectly at liberty to sell them".[17] In 1995, Iain Sproat, then Secretary of State for National Heritage, told the House of Commons that selling objects was "entirely a matter for the Queen".[18]


A registered charity, the Royal Collection Trust was set up in 1993 after the Windsor Castle fire with a mandate to conserve the works and enhance the public's appreciation and understanding of art.[19] It employs around 500 staff and is one of the five departments of the Royal Household.[20] Buildings do not come under its remit. In 2012, the team of curatorial staff numbered 29, and there were 32 conservationists.[21] Income is raised by charging entrance fees to see the collection at various locations and selling books and merchandise to the public. The Trust is financially independent and receives no Government funding or public subsidy.[22]

The conservation studio at Marlborough House is responsible for the in-house conservation of furniture and decorative objects located at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Frogmore House, Palace of Holyroodhouse, St James's Palace, Sandringham House, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Osborne House.[23]

See also


  1. Stuart Jeffries (21 November 2002). "Kindness of strangers". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  2. Jerry Brotton (2 April 2006). "The great British art swindle". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 1 December 2016.(subscription required)
  3. "Royal Taxation". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 218. United Kingdom: House of Commons. 11 February 1993. col. 1121.
  4. "Royal Taxation". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 351. United Kingdom: House of Commons. 7 June 2000. col. 273W.
  5. 1 2 3 "FAQs about the Royal Collection". Royal Collection Trust.
  6. "Secrets of the Queen's paintings". The Telegraph. 15 February 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  7. "Canalettos go on show at Palace". The Independent. 4 March 1993. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  8. R. Brinley Jones, ‘Llwyd, Humphrey (1527–1568)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
  9. Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration. Edited by Jane Roberts. Publisher: Royal Collection Enterprises, St. James' Palace, London, 2002. Page 25 (by Sir Hugh Roberts) and Page 391 (chapter 14). ISBN 1-902163-49-4 (h-b uk) and ISBN 1-902163-52-4 (pb uk)
  10. The Social Affairs Unit – at least Web Review: Dutch Paintings at the Royal Collection
  11. Jones, Jonathan (30 August 2006). "The real Da Vinci code". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  12. Christopher Lloyd (1999). The Paintings in the Royal Collection: A Thematic Exploration. Royal Collection Enterprises. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-902163-59-8. It is, therefore, a private collection, although its sheer size (some 7,000 pictures) and its display in palaces and royal residences (several of which are open to the public) give it a public dimension.
  13. "Force the Royal Family to declare gifts, say MPs". Evening Standard. London. 30 January 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  14. 1 2 Andrew Morton (1989). Theirs Is the Kingdom: The Wealth of the Windsors. Michael O'Mara Books. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-948397-23-3.
  15. Camilla Tominey (23 April 2015). "Queen gave misleading impression over £10 million Monet painting". Express. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  16. Jeremy Paxman (2007). On Royalty. Penguin Adult. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-14-101222-3.
  17. "The convenient fiction of who owns priceless treasure". The Guardian. 30 May 2002. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  18. "Ethiopian Manuscripts". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). 263. United Kingdom: House of Commons. 19 July 1995. col. 1463W.
  19. Robert Hardman (2011). Our Queen. Random House. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-4070-8808-2.
  20. "Working for us". Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  21. "The Royal Collection: Not only for Queen, but also for country". The Telegraph. 28 May 2012. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  22. "Full accounts made up to 31 March 2015". Companies House. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  23. "Annual report 2006/7" (PDF). Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
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