Buckingham Palace’s east wing opens to public for first time for £75 tours

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The appearances of royals on the Buckingham Palace balcony has long been a focal point of national events. From Queen Victoria welcoming troops back from Crimea and George V celebrating the end of the Great War to the late Queen Elizabeth II on her platinum jubilee, it has gained iconic status.

But the palace room immediately behind its famous net curtains has remained private since the east wing was built 175 years ago.

Until now. Buckingham Palace next week throws open the doors to previously private rooms in the newly reserviced east wing for the first time for exclusive £75 limited tours.

And here be dragons – everywhere; on porcelain, cabinets, nine-tier hexagonal pagodas, ornate gilded curtain poles, fireplaces and ceilings.

It is thanks to George IV, whose 18th-century passion for chinoiserie at his Royal Pavilion in Brighton saw many of these unique ceramic objets d’art and furniture incorporated into Buckingham Palace by Victoria when in 1850 she sold off his seaside retreat to build the east wing and better accommodate her growing family. It took 143 removal loads.

The palace’s £370m 10-year reservicing programme saw about 3,500 objects removed from the east wing alone for vital rewiring and plumbing work, but now the rooms behind the facade have been restored.

The balcony was Victoria’s consort Prince Albert’s idea “to connect with the people”, said Caroline de Guitaut, a surveyor of the king’s works of art. While visitors cannot step on to the balcony itself, its view of the Victoria memorial right down the Mall can be clearly seen through the net drapes from which many a young royal has peeped on state occasions. The net curtains themselves are of humbler provenance than the items on display, being standard issue across the palace.

In the Centre Room behind the balcony and shielded by the nets, highlights include a newly restored glass chandelier, shaped to resemble a lotus flower, and two Chinese 18th-century Imperial Silk wall hangings, presented to Victoria by Guangxu, the emperor of China, on her diamond jubilee in 1897.

The Yellow Drawing Room, where Elizabeth II sat for portrait artists, is used for royal audiences and receptions. Once hung with yellow damask, Queen Mary replaced it with 18th-century hand-painted Chinese wallpaper featuring trees and birds. The wallpaper has been expertly removed, cleaned and rehung, and was found by Mary among stored items from the Royal Pavilion. Mary liked its bright yellow background, now faded with time to a creamy hue. Visitors can also admire two hexagonal, nine-tiered Chinese porcelain pagodas and the Kylin clock, which incorporates two turquoise Chinese lions.

The Royal Pavilion’s interior “inspired the Chinese-themed decor in Buckingham Palace’s principal rooms” according to the Royal Collection, which holds about one million works of art and objects gifted or bought by kings and queens over 500 years.

All 240ft of the Principal Corridor, which spans the entire width of the palace, is heavily hung with royal paintings including Gainsboroughs, Russian paintings gifted to Victoria by emperor Nicholas 1 and a large work by William Powell Frith of the 1863 Windsor wedding of a future Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, showing Victoria, in mourning black two years after Albert’s death from typhoid fever, peering down from a balcony.

Part of the corridor is lined with a parade of ebonised cabinets of English craftsmanship but incorporating Japanese panels. A richly decorated cylinder bureau from France was bought after the French Revolution, when lots of French royal objects suddenly came on to the market. There are examples, too, of japanning, the European imitation of east Asian lacquerwork.

Tours of the east wing, which were the idea of King Charles, begin on Monday and are restricted to just 20 people at a time. Tickets sold out within hours when they went on sale earlier this year. They must be bought with the standard ticket for the Palace’s State Rooms where visitors can see the dramatic new portrait of the king by Jonathan Yeo dominating the ballroom.

The 10-year reservicing programme is being funded via a temporary uplift in the Sovereign Grant, with the treasury previously approving funding of £369m to deliver the programme.

Details of Buckingham Palace tours and summer opening can be found at the Royal Collection website.

Source: theguardian.com

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