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Major works by Thomas Gainsborough and Franz Xaver Winterhalter will go on show in a newly restored wing of Buckingham Palace this summer in a bid to broaden access to the UK Royal Collection.

The East Wing, which encompasses the front façade of the historic building featuring the famous central balcony, will be publicly accessible following a five-year refurbishment, with special guided tours available to visitors in July and August.

Built between 1847 and 1849 to cater for Queen Victoria’s growing family, the East Wing was financed through the sale of George IV’s seaside retreat in Brighton—the Royal Pavilion—in 1850. “The rooms are largely furnished with decorative arts that were moved to the East Wing of Buckingham Palace from George IV’s Brighton Pavilion upon its sale, and visitors will learn more about these works during the tours,” says a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman.

Thirty paintings will go on show in the East Wing’s Principal Corridor including John Hayes St Leger (1782) by Thomas Gainsborough and Queen Victoria with the Prince of Wales (1846) by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. (Both were recently on display in the Buckingham Palace State Rooms.) A portrait by Thomas Lawrence (George Canning, 1825-29) has not been on public view recently.

Porcelain pagodas

Examples of Chinese porcelain, including two hexagonal nine-tiered pagodas (1800-20), and the Kylin clock (around 1700-1822) from Japan, featuring a pair of squatting lions in turquoise- and purple-glazed porcelain, will also be shown. Asked if King Charles has a say regarding which works will be displayed in the East Wing, the spokeswoman says that “the King is kept aware of Royal Collection Trust activities”.

The East Wing’s Centre Room, also part of the renovation project

The East Wing has been renovated as part of a ten-year, £369m initiative called the Buckingham Palace Reservicing Programme. “The reservicing of Buckingham Palace will be funded through a temporary uplift in the Sovereign Grant, as recommended by the Royal Trustees and approved by Parliament,” the spokeswoman says.

The Sovereign Grant is the funding award paid annually to the monarch by the UK government; in 2022-23, the Sovereign Grant totalled £86.3m. The Royal Household’s official spending came to £107.5m the same year; palace officials partly attributed this to the continuing renovations at Buckingham Palace. (The reservicing programme was allocated £34.5m that year.)

The spokeswoman says that the net expenditure in 2022-23 of £107.5m is a 5% increase on the previous year due to “significant work relating to the reservicing of Buckingham Palace and the costs associated with the change of reign, as well as the impact of the consumer price index rising by 10.1%.” This overspend meant that the monarchy had to dip into its reserves, reducing this rainy-day pot by £20.7m.

The East Wing scheme throws marginally more light on the Royal Collection, which includes more than a million items. In 2022-23, 174 short-term loans from the Royal Collection were made to 19 exhibitions in the UK and to 15 exhibitions abroad. (There are approximately 10,000 works on long-term loan both in the UK and abroad.)

“Broadening access to the Palaces and Royal Collection is one of Royal Collection Trust’s charitable aims, as well as a demonstrable benefit of the ongoing reservicing programme,” the spokeswoman says.

Tours of the East Wing are not yet scheduled for next year. A limited number of tours will be trialled in July and August this year, the spokeswoman says. “What future access could look like, including at different times of year, will then be reviewed,” she adds.

Other projects aimed at widening access include the introduction of a £1 ticket to exhibitions at The King’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh for people receiving Universal Credit and other state benefits. Some commentators say even more needs to be done to boost the diversity of audiences.

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