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Review: Andrew Graham-Dixon, Reflections on the Royal Collection, Guildhall

If it's good to talk, then television art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon is very good indeed. In fact, as he observed at the start of the second half of this show when he said that so far he has only shown 11 of the 63 slides he had to offer, he knew he "talked too much".

But the pretty full up auditorium on a hot summer night at St George's Guildhall were not complaining as he spoke in a thoroughly entertaining way about some of the 1.3 million objects in the Royal Collection.

At turns learned, sceptical, polemical and slightly profane, it was the enthusiasm communicated that the rapt audience most enjoyed.

As he pointed out, the 1.3 million figure is somewhat misleading. That includes an awful lot of teaspoons and saucers and indeed a host of non-artistic items. Only 1.6 per cent are paintings. But what paintings, from Holbein to Van Dyck to Walter Sickert, as Graham-Dixon reflected, the history of the Royal Collection is simply the history of art in this country.

And the nation does owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Graham-Dixon and his television series on the subject for shining a light on the subject, because as he pointed out, there is no Hermitage housing the entire collection in one place. Even if it is on display, then it dispersed around the country to the various palaces used past and present by the Royal Family. You want Victoriana (including the extraordinary marble casts of the Queen's children's limbs or her rather impressive sketches of Albert) go to Osborne House, Tudor, try Hampton Court, Buckingham Palace has its gallery for paintings. Sandringham, of course, houses the fabulous Faberge collection of Queen Alexandra.

Andrew Graham-Dixon (3282691)
Andrew Graham-Dixon (3282691)

The pity is more is not on show. Windsor Castle apparently has a mind-blowing photographic collection that really deserves a gallery of its own.

An enjoyable night which followed an earlier talk in the day at the same venue on Roman Art. This was Mr Graham-Dixon's third visit to the King's Lynn Festival. Let's hope it is not the last.

Mark Leslie

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