100 years of British royal photography goes on display in London

Beginning with the official coronation image of King Charles III and ending with an intimate portrait of his late aunt Princess Margaret, a new exhibition documenting a century of British royal portrait photography debuts this week.

“Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography” is the first exhibition in the newly reopened King’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, which was previously known as the Queen’s Gallery.

The exhibition, which features 150 images taken by 40 photographers, include pieces by well-known photographers like Cecil Beaton, who spent four decades capturing the royal family.

The images are taken from the Royal Collection, which is one of the biggest art collections in the world. Among the images are portraits by Annie Leibovitz, Dorothy Wilding, and Princess Margaret’s husband, Lord Snowdon.

The exhibition traces the history of royal portraiture from its inception in black-and-white photography in the 1920s to vibrant, contemporary representations in the 21st century.

With just two photographs, the show begins with a modest yet commanding blue chamber. One of the portraits commemorates the 1923 engagement of Prince Albert and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who would go on to become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

The official coronation portrait of their grandson, King Charles III, in 2023, is the other.

Taken 100 years apart, curator Alessandro Nasini said one was a private commission, while the other was distributed across the world in seconds.

One photo by Snowdon of four royal mothers with their newborn babies in 1964 is on public display for the first time.

“Royal Portraits” also displays many iconic photos of the late Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September 2022, including her coronation portrait by Cecil Beaton.

The queen is seen in the black-and-white image in the Green Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, her complete regalia on display against a painted background of Westminster Abbey.

Additionally on display are Jamie Reid’s contentious 1977 cover image for the Sex Pistols’ punk hit “God Save the Queen” and Andy Warhol’s 1985 screenprint, which was inspired by Peter Grugeon’s original portrait of the Queen.

The majority of radio stations at the time banned the song since it was perceived as an attack on the monarchy, along with the cover.

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