The Queen saw the funny side of being shown an exhibition of paintings collected by Charles I – as many of the works were from the Royal Collection.
When the monarch was reminded by Royal Academy of Arts (RA) president Christopher Le Brun it was effectively her artworks on display, she laughed.
The Queen’s tour came when she opened a major redevelopment at the institution, based at Burlington House in central London, which has expanded into Burlington Gardens, a property behind it.
The paintings are part of the RA exhibition Charles I: King And Collector which reunites 140 items acquired and commissioned during his reign for the first time since the 17th century.
After viewing the new redevelopment created by architect Sir David Chipperfield, Mr Le Brun made the monarch laugh when he told invited guests: “I’ve just had rather a unique experience, Her Majesty came to see the Charles I exhibition, I was effectively ma’am showing you your own paintings – it does look really wonderful.”
The president gave his speech from a room in the new re-development, the former headquarters of the University of London which is now linked to its neighbour and will provide extra space for exhibitions and displays.
The Royal Academy was founded by George III in 1768, and its first president was the acclaimed portrait artist Sir Joshua Reynolds. It was founded as a independent institution led by artists and architects to provide a strong voice for art and artists.
Mr Le Brun added: “Queen Victoria opened this building in 1870, Her Majesty is her great, great granddaughter, there’s something rather wonderful about this event today because what David Chipperfield has managed to do is create a second childhood for this great building – a sort of benign monumentality.
“The reason it’s a benign monumentality is because we intend to go on at least for another 250 years, as you note we celebrate our 250 birthday (this year).
“The more observant amongst you may have noticed we’re not completely finished, but my point of introducing it with 250 years is we’ve got to get it right, what is a few weeks – what is a few days in the context of centuries?”
The exhibition featured works from the Royal Collection including Anthony van Dyck’s family portrait of Charles I, wife Henrietta Maria of France and their children Prince Charles and Princess Mary from 1632, to another work by the Flemish master of Charles on horseback painted a year later.
During the tour of the new development, the Queen was told the story about Queen Victoria’s hopes of getting the RA to move from its then-Trafalgar Square home to South Kensington where Prince Albert had, before his death in 1861, wanted to create a science, arts and cultural quarter.
When she was shown documents relating to the issue, a letter from 1865 written by Victoria was pointed out to the Queen, who said: “I recognise the handwriting.”
After the Queen, left Mr Le Brun said: “She’s extremely well informed about her paintings. We had the curator there to talk to her and she was fascinated to see them in different arrangements.”
He joked: “They are big paintings and quite difficult to get out of Buckingham Palace.”