Over her seven-decade-long reign, Queen Elizabeth II has enjoyed a position atop a list of the largest private art collectors in the world. Indeed, the Royal Collection Trust, over which she presides, is one of the most vast and complete of all European monarchs. To mark her platinum jubilee—for which the UK receives a four-day bank holiday—here are 11 free events that celebrate the visual arts over the long weekend.
Mary Gillick: Modelling the Queen's portrait, British Museum, London, 2 June-31 July
Before she became Queen Elizabeth II, the young Princess Elizabeth of York modelled for the sculptor Mary Gillick, who was then in her 70s. The resultant work, depicting the princess's head, gave the little-known Gillick a boost of publicity and would serve as the basis for the first portrait of the monarch to don coinage across the country and Commonwealth. It now features in an exhibition at the British Museum that surveys Gillick's career in portraiture, metalwork and design. Particular importance is placed on her royal work, including plaster models of the Queen’s head and documents relating to the making of the coin.
Jubilee Sculpture Celebration, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 3 June
Open for one day only, Hauser & Wirth invites families to their Somerset location to explore the commemorative role of sculpture, allowing children between the ages of six to 14 to design their own sculptures based on works from the gallery's roster. These include totemic pieces by Henry Moore and subversive icons by Bharti Kher. The event will also coincide with the gallery’s solo exhibition of Moore's sculptures (until 4 September).
Eggs of an Era Exhibition, Sloane Square, London, until 12 June
Seven egg-shaped curiosities, each representing a different decade of the Queen’s reign, will be placed across Sloane Square, Duke of York Square and Pavilion Road in Chelsea, London for this show. Spearheaded by the Duchess of Cornwall’s charity, Elephant Family, it aims to “raise to awareness of conservation by highlighting the impacts of poaching and collectability”. Each design has been created by one of seven different artists working in a unique medium; participants might find it especially fun to see whether they can spot them all.
Platinum Jubilee Digital Display, National Portrait Gallery, London
For those looking to avoid the crowds, this online exhibition of royal portraiture provides an opportunity to join in on the celebrations from the comfort of your own home. The National Portrait Gallery, which has more than 1,000 portraits of the Queen in its possession, has curated a show featuring works from artists such as Dorothy Wilding and the photographer William Horton, who captured a well-known image of the Queen in 1945 next to a military car during her time in the armed forces. The exhibition will feature an animated timeline of her reign, surveying both her role as head of state, as well as a more intimate aspects of her life.
All Imperial War Museums (IMW) locations—in London, Cambridge and Manchester—will be putting on exhibitions exploring the Queen’s relationship with the armed forces in times of conflict. At IMW London, visitors will be greeted with 18 photographs as part of the exhibition Crown and Conflict: Portraits of a Queen in Wartime, as well as the show The Royals in Wartime, which will look at objects that hold sentimental value to the Royal family.
In Duxford, Cambridge visitors can expect “a large-scale projection of recently digitised film” hoping to explore both private and public moments with the armed forces. And in Manchester at IMW North, large-scale projections will be shown throughout the main exhibition space, depicting the Queen in both war and peacetime.
Superbloom,Tower of London, London, until 18 September
An "evolving display" of flowers grown from 20 million seeds in moat of the Tower of London will see flowers sprout, grow and change over the months of June to September. Guests will also find themselves surrounded by sound installations and specially commissioned sculptures. The project has been realised through the work of the Historic Royal Palaces alongside the Bath-based landscape architects Grant Associates and University of Sheffield Professor of Planting Design, Nigel Dunnett. Not only a feat of design, the organisers also plan to use the project to introduce a new biodiverse habitat for wildlife.
Manchester Flower Show, Manchester, until 5 June
In another floral-themed showing, the Manchester Flower Show returns this year with displays fit for royalty. Exhibiting installations in both the city centre and beyond, the sprawling show will feature work across a range of mediums. Flower installations can be spotted on the city’s grandest and most architecturally accomplished buildings such as the Stock Exchange Hotel. For more delights, visitors can head to York Street to view a floral graphic design display, to Market Street for a tribute of knitted flowers or to King Street for a floral throne installation.
Emblem Design Shortlist Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1-15 June
Last year, the 19-year-old aspiring designer Edward Roberts won competition to design the official badge for the platinum jubilee, run jointly by the Victoria and Albert and Buckingham Palace. His purple emblem can be spotted on jubilee bunting, commemorative plates and other memorabilia. In this exhibition, the museum will be showcasing Roberts’s original design, described by the vice-chancellor of the Royal College Art as “ingenious”, as well as the work of nine other young designers who made the shortlist. In addition, the exhibition will explore the history of jubilee iconography by exhibiting a selection of previous Jubilee emblems.
Jubilee Arts Festival, Sotheby’s, London, until 15 June
A festival stretching over more than two weeks will turn Bond Street into a nonstop party. Beginning at the end of May and continuing until mid-June, Sotheby’s will host a festival of events, exhibitions and talks dedicated to the jubilee season. Power & Image: Royal Portraiture & Iconography (until 15 June) plans to shine a light on five centuries of female monarchs with works such as Andy Warhol’s Reigning Queens and the Woburn Abbey's portrait of Elizabeth I, better known as the Armada Portrait. Highlights from the long weekend also include Saturday’s family day with creative opportunities for the little ones as well as a Thursday artist talk. The latter will see the Nigerian artist Oluwole Omofemi in conversation with Tatler's art editor, Helen Rosslyn, where they will discuss Omofemi's portrait of the monarch featured on the magazine’s jubilee edition and on view as part of the Power & Image exhibition.
Rubin’s Vase and Giant Jubilee Kaleidosphere, Camera Obscura World of Illusions, Edinburgh
Named after the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin, the Rubin Vase is an illusion in which a two-dimensional image can be interpreted as depicting two completely different things (for example, a vase or two faces). For its jubilee celebrations, the technical designer of Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura gallery, Grant McGuigan, has created a vase that could also show a pair of corgis—a dog breed famously beloved by the Queen. In addition, guests can also look through the dizzying Giant Kaleidoscope to peek at a colourful Pop Art portrait of the Queen, reflected 70 times within it—one for each year of her rule.
Jamie Reid: Sex Pistols Mural, Southbank Centre, until 5 June
The Observer’s Sean O’Hagan once described the embellished and graffitied portrait of Queen Elizabeth II that graced the cover of the Sex Pistol’s single “God Save the Queen” as “the single most iconic image of the punk era”. The controversial image was an example of how the growing anti-establishment sentiment converged in style, music and politics. At the Southbank Center, the artist Jamie Reid has created a mural of images, fabric, and documentation set forth as a thesis on the Pistols era and both the cultural turmoil and triumph it represented.