The largest-ever exhibition of paintings by Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, is currently on display in London. On view at the Garrison Chapel in the former Chelsea Barracks through February 14, it features 79 watercolors of landscapes in England, Scotland, France, Tanzania and more, reports Laura Elston for the Scotsman.
The Prince’s Foundation, an educational charity established by Charles in 1986, organized the showcase, which is described in a statement as the first “full exhibition” of his artwork. Charles previously displayed 50 of his watercolors at Hampton Court Palace in 1998 and 30 at the National Gallery of Australia in 2018.
In wall text written for the exhibition and quoted in the statement, Charles explains how watercolor painting enables him to refocus his energies:
[Y]ou become increasingly aware of things that may have escaped your attention previously—things like the quality of light and shade, of tone and texture and of the shape of buildings in relation to the landscape. It all requires the most intense concentration and, consequently, is one of the most relaxing and therapeutic exercises I know.
According to Theo Farrant of Euronews, the prince started experimenting with the medium in the 1970s after realizing that photography—a hobby of his mother, Elizabeth II—failed to offer him that same feeling of creative expression.
“Quite simply, I experienced an overwhelming urge to express what I saw through the medium of watercolor and to convey that almost ‘inner’ sense of texture, which is impossible to achieve via photography,” the royal says in the wall text.
Robert Waddell, an art teacher at the Gordonstoun boarding school in Scotland, introduced Charles to painting during his student years in the 1960s. The prince later discussed technique with the late British watercolorist Edward Seago and took lessons with prominent artists Derek Hill, John Ward and Bryan Organ, as Lucy Davies reported for the Telegraph in 2018.
Though Charles says he is “appalled” by the quality of his earlier works, he believes his technique has improved over the years. At the same time, the prince argues that the therapeutic benefits offered by watercolor painting far outweigh any notion that his artwork might be of a high standard of quality.
“I am under no illusion that my sketches represent great art or a burgeoning talent,” he writes in the wall text. “They represent, more than anything else, my particular form of ‘photograph album’ and, as such, mean a great deal to me.”
A self-described “enthusiastic amateur,” Charles is actually one of the most financially successful living artists in the United Kingdom. Between 1997 and 2016, an investigation by the Telegraph’s Robert Mendick found that prints of the prince’s paintings sold for a total of more than £6 million (around $8.9 million today). All proceeds went to the Prince’s Foundation, which supports a range of charitable endeavors.
Other British royals have engaged in artistic pursuits in the past. In 2015, Charles’s niece, Princess Eugenie, joined the Hauser & Wirth gallery as an art director. She has shared several watercolors of her own on her Instagram account, including a painting of a pink flower on World Art Day in 2020, reports Stephanie Petit for People. Queen Victoria, Charles’ great-great-great-grandmother, was also a renowned watercolorist. Last year, the Royal Collection Trust displayed a range of watercolors collected and commissioned by the queen and her husband, Prince Albert.