In 1863 the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibited the wedding gifts of the Prince and Princess of Wales, attracting 217,000 visitors in seventeen days. Given that 27 million people recently watched the BBC1 television tribute to Queen Elizabeth, the British fascination with royal-watching seems undiminished. Now we are to have “Sovereign: A Celebration of Forty Years of Service” from 3 April (until 13 September), brainchild of Robin Gill, Executive Chairman of the charity Royal Anniversary Trust which will receive any profits arising from the exhibition and use them for educational projects. The tone of “Sovereign” will be “educational, informative and fun”, in line with the Trust’s guideline for all their projects. It will include many previously unshown items belonging to the Royal family including coronation robes, gold plate used at state banquets, family photographs, cartoons and gifts received during overseas visits. The exhibition will conclude with a section entitled “The Family at Home” with specially-commissioned photographs of the family and official photographs of family events such as weddings, christenings and engagements. The show has been designed by the Royal College of Art and curated by John Julius Norwich at the suggestion of Jocelyn Stevens the RCA’s former director.
A V&A spokeswoman stressed the museum’s enthusiasm for the project, and felt that such a show would attract visitors not normally likely to visit the museum who would then be drawn to related exhibits in the permanent collection. The exhibition has aroused comment in the British press as the first to impose a stiff £6 entrance charge, albeit including an “acoustiguide”—a sort of sophisticated Walkman. This is despite the exhibition’s substantial sponsorship: The Daily Telegraph, Pearson plc and Reed International have underwritten the £2 million costs.
There is no separate provision for exhibitions in the V&A’s budget which is approximately £30 million per annum. Of this sum £16.6 million goes almost entirely on salaries; £10.3 million is devoted to the running and maintenance of the building and £1.145 million is available for purchases. Any money for exhibitions or gallery refurbishment must be squeezed out of the £16.6 million or obtained by sponsorship, such as Samson’s for the forthcoming Korean galleries. Given that some exhibitions such as the recent “Art of Death” attract little or no sponsorship, profits from crowd-pullers like the Japan show last year (which attracted 180,000 visitors and made money) are needed to be ploughed back into the funds.