Charles I: King and Collector

Probably the most ambitious British royal collector in history.

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures

The King of art

This is a special year for the Royal Academy of Arts, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2018 and has planned some really exceptional exhibitions to mark the occasion. The year starts with a true blockbuster that reunites Charles I’s spectacular art collection for the first time in nearly 400 years.

The paintings include works by Titian and Van Dyck, Dürer, Rubens and Holbein and have been lent by the Louvre, the Prado, the Royal Collection and the National Gallery, as well as many others from public and private collections. Van Dyck’s portraits of the royal family are front and centre of this exhibition, and included in this are such celebrated portraits as Charles I at the Hunt (Le Roi à la chasse) — on loan from the Louvre and returning to England for the first time since the 17th century — and The Greate Peece, depicting Charles and his family.

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About Charles

I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the World.

Charles I’s speech on the scaffold

Charles I was the second son of James I of England, VI of Scotland, and Anne of Denmark and so would probably have remained a footnote in history had his older brother Henry Fredrick not died at 18 of typhoid fever.

As a young man he visited Madrid for marriage negotiations with the Habsburg princess Maria Anna of Spain. Although no agreement on marriage was reached (he subsequently married the French princess Henrietta Maria), Charles was so impressed by the Spanish royal family’s collection of Old Masters that he returned home having acquired paintings by Titian, Correggio and Giambologna, among others.

During his reign he collected art with a passion, amassing one of the finest collections ever, encompassing over 2,000 artworks by the time of his downfall. He also convinced two of the greatest artists of the age, Rubens and Van Dyck, to come to England, with Van Dyck becoming ‘Principall Painter’ [sic] to the King.

Charles’s reign was marred by his long-running quarrel with Parliament, which sought to curb his royal prerogative. By 1642 tensions had erupted leading to civil war and eventually to defeat and Charles’s execution in Whitehall in 1649.

After his death, his art collection was broken up and sold on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, Charles II went about trying to reassemble his father’s art collection. Many were returned, and remain part of the Royal Collection to this day — nearly 100 of which are being exhibited here — but some, particularly those that were taken abroad, have never returned.

Also on

Running concurrently is an exhibition on Charles II’s art collection from the Royal Collection.

Charles II: Art & Power
The Queen’s Gallery
Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA

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Up next at the RA

The Great Spectacle tells the story of the RA’s Summer Exhibition, the world’s longest-running contemporary exhibition, with works ranging from Joshua Reynolds to Wolfgang Tillmans. The Great Spectacle runs concurrently with the Summer Exhibition 2018, which is being curated by Grayson Perry this year.

Both exhibitions on: 12 June to 19 August 2018.

More about The Great Spectacle
More about the RA Summer Exhibition 2018

Image credit: Charles I by Anthony van Dyck, 1635-6, copyright Royal Collection Trust


27 January - 15 April 2018


Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
London W1J 0BD

Opening hours

The gallery is open every day from 10am to 6pm, and until 10pm on Fridays.