1. The welcome tea urn
We were invited for 8.30 am – only one and a half hours before the public opening – and offered tea, coffee, fruit juice and a choice of the most delicious croissants. As we arrived, the finishing touches were being done to the trellis and flowers on either side of the entrance; we learned that everyone had worked late into the night to get the exhibition ready. They were obviously successful – it was immaculate.
2. Finishing touches
The curators then showed us round, told us what they wanted to get across in the exhibition, how they had set about it, talked us through the highlights and gave us the behind-the-scenes stories. It’s a fabulous exhibition and I thoroughly recommend it, but, for this post, I’m concentrating on those objects which I thought might interest writers of Georgian and Regency romances, like Queen Mary II’s delightful blue and white tulip vases designed to display rare (and expensive) tulips.
I decided that the tulip vases had definite dramatic possibilities. The hero’s formidable grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, owns a pair of tulip vases which are her pride and joy. The heroine, Araminta, a sweet-natured girl but badly bullied by her shrewish elder sister, becomes disastrously clumsy whenever she’s nervous … I’m sure you see what I mean.
3. Tulip vase (1702)
By the mid-18th century, the formality of Tudor and Stuart gardens was being superseded by a more natural look, with landscaping by garden designers such as ‘Capability’ Brown and his successor, Humphry Repton. In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), Mr Rushworth declares himself eager to ‘improve’ his family home, Southerton Court. ‘Your best friend upon such an occasion,’ said Miss Bertram, calmly, ‘would be Mr Repton, I imagine.’ And Mr Rushworth lets drop that Repton charges ‘five guineas a day’ (£5.25), a stupendous amount of money, considering that a farm worker at Southerton would be lucky to earn ten shillings (50p) a week.
4. The Gardens at Kew by Johan Jacob Schalch, 1759
Repton would turn the formality of Southerton’s avenue of trees and the wood (which is famously locked) into the epitome of classical elegance with specially-created lakes, accessible stands of noble trees, ornamental bridges, ‘classical’ temples and Greek statues, so that Mr Rushworth’s guests could wander at will. Plenty of scope for romance and intrigue there.
The Painting Paradise exhibition has a number of delightful watercolours from the 18th century, with gardeners going about their everyday work, such as the gardener’s boy with his watering can at Windsor Castle by one of my favourite artists, Paul Sandby. The boy, indeed, is almost part of the natural look himself.
5. Norman Gateway and Moat Garden, Windsor Castle, watercolour by Paul Sandby, 1770
The exhibition also celebrates the arrival of thousands of new plants, starting as a trickle in the 16th century and becoming a flood by the 19th century. Plant designs now appear everywhere: on china, like the Chelsea porcelain below above; in the Fabergé jewel flowers which have a case of their own; as well as in the botanical prints on display.
6. Chelsea porcelain, 1755
Moving slightly out of period, I’m including a few of the Victorian pieces of jewellery in the exhibition, also inspired by flowers. The fuchsia earrings and pendant (below) were made for Queen Victoria. The outer petals curling up are gold-mounted enamel; the central petals, however, are Princess Beatrice’s milk teeth!
7. Fuchsia earrings and pendant, Garrard, 1864.
I loved Queen Victoria’s orange flowers headdress. The Queen wore a real orange flower wreath, symbolising chastity, for her wedding in 1840; and, in 1846, Prince Albert gave her the headdress, which is made of porcelain, gold, enamel and velvet, with silk ribbons, and completed the set over the following few years.
8. Parure, Garrard, 1846
And lastly, the beautifully-decorated flower fan, made for Queen Victoria’s birthday, which was a gift from her eldest daughter, Victoria, the Princess Royal. The flowers, painted by the princess herself when she was only fifteen, were specially chosen to spell out VICTORIA: violets, iris, cornflower, convolvulus and corn ears, tulip and thistle, orange blossom, roses, ivy and auricula. She was obviously very talented.
9. Fan, 1856. Leather leaves with mother of pearl and ivory.
I have only been able to cover a fraction of the wonderful things in this interesting and inspiring exhibition. There is surely something for everyone here. In fact, I lingered after the general public had come in to make sure I’d chosen the right items for this post. Painting Paradise is on at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, until 11th October. www.royalcollection.org.uk
1, 2, 3 and 6 by Elizabeth Hawksley
4, 5, 7, 8, and 9, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015