Friday, 01 September 2017

Royal Gifts: Arts and crafts from around the World

Buckingham Palace showcases 65 years of official gifts to HM the Queen, plus a commemorative Diana exhibit

Written by Thomas Blaikie

This year’s special exhibition for the summer opening of Buckingham Palace is Royal Gifts, with an additional display commemorating the 20th anniversary of theThomas-Blaikie-colour-176 death of Diana, Princess of Wales in the Music Room. There are over 200 Royal gifts, presented to Her Majesty as Head of State and Head of the Commonwealth or by organisations, towns and cities of the United Kingdom. An awful lot of gifts. And there must be thousands more, stored away. Where to put them all?

Most covetable, and possibly most useful, is the scarf showing a hunt of eland antelopes given by Nelson Mandela in 1996. A close second is the Botswanan contribution, a woven village scene from 1979. These are delightful examples of crafts from the countries concerned, fresh and vigorous and not at all ‘official.’ Belgium gave lace and the Netherlands a model barrel organ (swirly baroque: a bit sentimental) while the oil-rich countries of the Middle East are all-out bling. But the pair of coconut baskets from Queen Salote of Tonga (cost: not very much) and the handbag woven from coconut leaves presented by the Marshall Islands in 2012 are somehow more charming. Not a few of the pieces scream ‘official gift’, a notch or two up from the kind of thing presented at a Rotary Club dinner. There are a lot of trays and boxes. All the same, it is entertaining and intriguing to see how the various countries chose to represent themselves with their gifts. It is always said that the Queen’s gifts in return are often quite modest: something from John Lewis?

New Zealand’s Girl Guides took a novel approach in 1954 with their hand-painted jigsaw (a map of New Zealand; the Queen likes jigsaws), accompanied by a manuscript chronicling the journey it made to every Girl Guide patrol in the country, with the signatures of all the Guides. But this kind of imaginative way with an official gift is rare.

The slightly peculiar memorial corner to Princess Diana in the Music Room – a mock-up of her sitting room at Kensington Palace – comes as just a little bit of a relief. Here are her desk (a good but not exceptional antique), a case of cassette tapes (Elton John, Diana Ross and George Michael) plus less expected things – her school tuck box and an item described as her ‘childhood typewriter’. Is a typewriter a standard piece of equipment for a child? Was Diana renowned for her typing? In any case, she liked to keep it by her. Oh, and of course her ballet shoes, well worn, which used to hang on her door.

Until 1 October at Buckingham Palace, London SW1: 0303-123 7300, 

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