Never-Before-Seen Royal Family Portraits Go on Display at Buckingham Palace

“Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography” showcases 150 photographs taken between the 1920s and today

Four royal newborns
This photograph, depicting four royal women with their newborns, was a gift to the obstetrician who delivered all of the babies within a two-month period in 1964. Snowdon / Royal Collection Trust

Rare photographs—some never previously displayed in public—are on view at a new exhibition in London.

Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography,” which opened last week in Buckingham Palace’s King’s Gallery, tugs back the curtain on royal life, offering brief glimpses into intimate moments between family members over the past 100 years.

Featuring over 150 archival photos from the 1920s to today, the exhibition “offers an insight not only into how the camera has shaped the country’s perception of the royal family—through coronations, jubilees and world wars—but their perception of each other,” as Tatler’s Ben Jureidini writes.

Queen Elizabeth by Andy Warhol
A portrait of Elizabeth II by renowned Pop artist Andy Warhol Todd-White Art Photography / Ben Fitzpatrick / Royal Collection Trust

Visitors can see, for instance, a young Charles III standing in a grand room with his sister, Princess Anne, in a portrait taken for the young prince’s eighth birthday in the 1950s, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Hanan Dervisevic. Another birthday portrait shows a 25-year-old Princess Margaret, Elizabeth II’s sister, at around the same time.

“The Royal Collection holds some of the most enduring photographs ever taken of the royal family,” says curator Alessandro Nasini in a statement. “Alongside these beautiful vintage prints, which cannot be on permanent display for conservation reasons, we are excited to share archival correspondence and never-before-seen proofs that will give visitors a behind-the-scenes insight into the process of creating such unforgettable royal portraits.”

Many of the images were taken by celebrated British portrait photographers, including Cecil Beaton, who captured the royal family between the 1930s and the 1970s.

Young King Charles
A young Charles III and his sister, Princess Anne, in 1956 Antony Armstrong-Jones / Royal Collection Trust

In one World War II-era image, a young Elizabeth II and her sister gather around their father’s desk at the royal family lodge. In another, their parents, George VI and Queen Elizabeth, inspect the damage to Buckingham Palace from wartime bombings in 1940.

Another highlight is a 1964 photograph depicting four new royal mothers: Elizabeth II, Margaret, Princess Alexandra and Katharine, Duchess of Kent.

Princess Margaret
A close-up photograph of Princess Margaret taken by her then-husband Antony Armstrong-Jones, also known as Lord Snowdon, in 1967 Snowdon / Royal Collection Trust

Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, took the photograph to thank the obstetrician who delivered the four royal babies in a two-month window. Each woman holds her newborn child, with Elizabeth sitting in the center and Prince Edward on her lap. A handwritten note from Margaret to her sister is displayed alongside the photograph.

“Darling Lilibet,” Margaret writes. “Would you like to sign it and then I will catch Kate to do the same and send it to [the doctor] as a souvenir of an extraordinary two months of delivery.”

The exhibition features numerous images of the late queen throughout her life, including a contact sheet of proofs from her 1953 coronation photoshoot—alongside the picture ultimately chosen from the bunch, reports CNN’s Lianne Kolirin. It’s signed by the queen, her husband and Beaton, the photographer. Another artwork on view is Andy Warhol’s 1985 portrait of Elizabeth: a vibrant silkscreen piece sprinkled with diamond dust, or particles of fine glass.

“This show … could have been so stilted, yet isn’t,” writes Alastair Sooke, the Telegraph’s chief art critic. “The secret of its success? It takes the photographers as seriously as their high-born sitters.”

Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography” is on view at Buckingham Palace in London through July 8.

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