An established patron of the arts and a talented watercolourist himself, HM The King has a passion for painting that connects him with the people
Without Francesco del Giocondo there would be no Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo depended on Lorenzo de’ Medici during his career. For centuries princes have known that even those who are not great artists themselves can still be a vital part of the process of making art. While he was Prince of Wales, The King was an active patron of the arts, and as he begins his reign, HM King Charles III’s passion for art remains a priority.
HM KING CHARLES III’S PASSION FOR ART
Foremost will be his involvement with the huge royal legacy of artworks gathered under the organisation of the Royal Collection. At the Royal Collection Trust, spokesman Lily Spicer explains: “The Royal Collection became more widely accessible during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and this increased access continues to broaden today. His Majesty The King has always taken a keen interest in the work of the Royal Collection Trust – he served as our chairman for many years when Prince of Wales. For example, last year he commissioned a set of portraits by contemporary artists of Holocaust survivors, which are now part of the Royal Collection, and for his 70th birthday he curated his own selection of artworks from the Collection.”
One of The King’s first official engagements after his accession took him up to his beloved Scotland to open the newly refurbished Burrell Collection, part of the Glasgow Museums. At about the same time, a limited-edition print of a watercolour of Balmoral, painted by him when Prince of Wales, was auctioned by Bonhams in its Scottish Home sale, raising about 10 times its estimate. Hamish Wilson of Bonhams praised “HM King Charles III’s passion for art, painting and his deep affection for Scotland”.
It was while he was at school at Gordonstoun in Morayshire that The King began his watercolour painting, and most agree he is an above-average amateur. Geoffrey Hughes, director of the Osborne Studio Gallery, says: “The King is a keen watercolourist, and not a bad one at that. He has a feel for the British landscape and an understanding of the traditions bound up in that countryside.”
The King took painting lessons with the late Neil Forster, the highly regarded animal painter, and this led him into patronage. Hughes says: “He commissioned several works from Forster – primarily Forster’s speciality of dog paintings. Both the Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall had their dogs painted by him. And Forster went on at least two watercolouring trips to Scotland with the then Prince Charles at a difficult time in his life, around the death of Princess Diana. When Forster died it was the Prince who got his rather chaotic studio sorted out. As well as teaching The King to paint, Forster also taught The Queen Consort, and she has never forgotten that.”
Those close to Their Majesties agree that Forster was an artistic influence for both of them. Artist and sculptor Tristram Lewis has often helped organise exhibitions of sporting art both for the Osborne Studio Gallery and the British Sporting Art Trust. He confirms: “The Royal couple both knew Neil Forster well. I remember when she was Duchess of Cornwall, The Queen Consort came to the Osborne Studio Gallery to an exhibition of Forster’s work. We were laughing about what a wonderful but impossible man he had been. The gallery assistants were petrified about doing their curtsies but The Queen Consort put them at their ease, joking, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve had men trying to curtsy to me before now.’”
In her foreword to that exhibition The Queen Consort said: ‘I am in the privileged position of writing both as a great admirer and as one of his very, very amateur pupils. He was quite impossible to pin down, as those of us lucky enough to have known him will attest.’ The Queen Consort has written several forewords for sporting art exhibitions organised by Lewis.
He explains: “I have known The Queen Consort for a long time – first as a ‘Monday lady’ with the Beaufort – and I have always been impressed by her knowledge of art. At the British Sporting Art Trust we did an exhibition of the work of Lionel Edwards at the Osborne Studio Gallery and the then Duchess wrote the introduction to the catalogue, as her grandfather, Lord Ashcombe, had been a collector of Edwards’. The British Sporting Art Trust loaned a painting of the Quorn for that exhibition, which included The Queen Consort’s grandfather as a member of the field, and she noted, ‘My grandfather was always pulling on the horse’s head which made it go up in the air, and there it is – there’s my grandfather there. We grew up with that picture.’ More recently we have had a Munnings exhibition, which opened at the Osborne Studio Gallery before going on to the National Horseracing Museum at Newmarket, and The Queen Consort also wrote the foreword for that exhibition. She has a deep-seated interest in sporting art.”
Hughes agrees: “All The Queen Consort’s contributions for us have been totally genuine and from the heart.” In her foreword to the Edwards exhibition, The Queen Consort wrote: ‘My first experience of Edwards’ magical artwork came through his illustrations for Moorland Mousie… Each picture brings back happy memories of my pony-mad childhood.’ And when she came to write the introduction for an exhibition of the much-loved pony story illustrator Anne Bullen, her words chimed with every horsy person’s feelings: ‘Her wonderfully illustrated books inspired many young riders like myself, and I count myself lucky to have many of these treasures on my bookshelves today.’
At heart it seems The Queen Consort will always be a Beaufort ‘Monday lady’ and this is so heartening for all those missing the late Queen Elizabeth II and her profound love for the horse world. When the late Queen’s Fell pony, Emma, stood at her funeral procession the watching nation truly felt the depth of their loss. But hearing how The Queen Consort feels about that way of life is encouraging. She is a highly valued patron of the British Sporting Art Trust. John Chatfeild-Roberts, chairman of the Trust, recalls: “Inviting someone to be your patron is a bit like asking someone to marry you – even though you are hopeful, you are nervous. So it gave us a huge lift when she agreed, and everybody involved is thrilled.”
And it goes further. Lewis believes: “I think she has influenced and encouraged The King in his love of art, and it helps keep them grounded.” Because it is not just that they love art, but it is the art that they love and how they express that passion that makes us optimistic for King Charles III’s reign. Lewis points out: “The Queen Consort and His Majesty are very tuned in to the modern world.” Chatfeild- Roberts adds: “As a young man, The King enjoyed participating in all aspects of British country life and sport, and I think going forward he will continue to have an empathy for our way of life. After all there are not many people, let alone a King, who can say they have cut and laid their own hedges.” Lewis agrees: “He is a sensitive and intelligent man, and he has a lot of experience. And remembering his campaigns when Prince of Wales, you realise that The King has been right in his views on conservation, for example.”
The King was closely involved with The Queen’s Green Canopy tree-planting project, one of the last initiatives of her reign, and had previously written the foreword for the artist Piers Browne’s enormous illustrative work The Glorious Trees of Great Britain.
Before his accession The King recorded an episode of The Repair Shop, which aired last autumn. The Repair Shop team repaired some royal wreckage, and then The King showed them round a project close to his heart: the Dumfries House centre in Ayrshire, set up by the Prince’s Foundation, teaching traditional art and craft skills including blacksmithing, stonemasonry and woodcarving.
Repair Shop presenter Jay Blades admitted how moved he was by the experience: “You’ve got someone from a council estate and someone from a Royal estate that have the same interests about apprenticeships and heritage crafts, and it is unbelievable to see that two people from so far apart, from different ends of the spectrum, actually have the same interests.”
Art is one of the bridges that connects The King with the people. His Royal patronage expresses not just the themes and aspirations of his reign, but also his own values as a thoughtful man. Whether it is being in awe of the beauty of a Leonardo or feeling nostalgic about a broken favourite vase, sharing these emotions with The King makes us all valuable.
THE ROYAL PASSIONS AND PATRONAGES
Each monarch brings fresh creative energy to the ancient institution, expressing both personal and cultural values through their chosen foundations and patronages. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a review of Royal patronages has been undertaken. It is likely King Charles III will continue connections with the groups and trusts he established as Prince of Wales as well as taking on many of the late Queen’s. With her deep knowledge of sporting art, The Queen Consort will also be active alongside The King in support of the arts.
The National Gallery
Despite his views about its modern extension, as Prince of Wales, The King became the first royal patron of the National Gallery.
The Glasgow School of Art
Opening Glasgow’s refurbished Burrell Collection was one of The King’s first official engagements on taking the throne.
Paintings in Hospitals
The power of art in health and education is a subject close to The King’s heart.
The Watercolour World
Before the accession, The King and Queen Consort were joint patrons of this project to rescue lost watercolours.
The British Sporting Art Trust
The Queen Consort is a keen supporter.
The Royal Drawing School
What could illustrate more The King’s passion for art than founding this organisation?
The Prince’s Foundation
Launched in 2018, the Foundation is at the heart of The King’s mission to bring creativity and craft into the community.