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‘Long live the Queen!’ What Succeeds the Royal Collection Under the Monarchy?

"Long live the Queen!”

Well, she did.

Queen Elizabeth II, the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning queen, passed away at Balmoral at the age of 96. She passed away peacefully on September 8th, Thursday afternoon at her Scottish estate, where she had spent the majority of the summer.

The next monarch, her eldest son and current King, Charles, remarked, "The death of my beloved Mother, Her Majesty The Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all members of my family."

Elizabeth was the only Queen of England most of us have ever known, and with her death on Thursday at the age of 96, she was the only queen we will likely ever know, with Princess Charlotte fourth in line for the throne, and that is assuming Prince George does not have children. Princes William and George will take the throne after King Charles III, whose reign has already begun.

When a man is involved, the discussion about the royal family, as well as its troubled past and uncertain future, significantly changes. It has been fascinating to observe the monarchy under Elizabeth II, considering how unlike much of the UK’s history, a woman had been in charge, handling the challenging and occasionally conflicting responsibilities of head of state and family. Her lengthy time in the spotlight meant she aged in front of us all, a reminder that the position of head of state was not a title one could hold but a life one had to live. She changed from a princess, revered for her pin-up appearance, to an elderly woman with silver hair, occasionally regarded as the grandmother of a nation.

Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of the United Kingdom and trustee of one of the world's largest art collections, has revealed very little about her personal tastes. However, it became clear that Queen Elizabeth valued art as she made the Royal Collection accessible to the public in 1962. One of the biggest and most widely shown art collections in the world is The Royal Collection. It is a one-of-a-kind, consisting of priceless pieces, all according to the tastes of Kings and Queens over the course of the past 500 years, adding up to over a million items. The Collection includes most of the pieces from all the royal palaces in addition to many well-known paintings, sketches, and other works of art.

The Queen took on quite the collection: 7,600 paintings, more than three times the amount housed in the National Gallery, 2,000 miniatures, the largest collection in the world, over 500,000 prints and drawings, not to mention furniture, ceramics, clocks, armor, books, and, of course, the Crown Jewels. It serves as a record of the monarchs' individual preferences over a period of 500 years and is one of the last significant royal collections in Europe to still be in tact.

The Royal Collection maintains a unique position. According to a spokesperson, "The Queen as Sovereign holds it in trust for her successors and the country. She doesn't own it on a personal level.”

We don't really know what the Queen thought of this incredible collection. We don’t know if she preferred Andy Warhol or Monet. There’s not much to delve into considering how, as per protocol, journalists must never ask the monarch a question, and so far, she has supplied very little information. Her moral authority to speak up about her own preferences would have undermined her ability to speak for all of her subjects.

(Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Andy Warhol)

The collection's key aims under Elizabeth were public access, conservation, and inventorying. The 15 royal residences that are available to the public, including Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Holyroodhouse, Hampton Court, the Tower of London, Osborne House, and Brighton's Royal Pavilion, include many of the world's most renown pieces of art. It is an honor to view artworks in the original historical contexts for which they were purchased or commissioned, as well as passing exhibits held at the palaces and the Queen's Gallery.

The young Princess Elizabeth was educated at home rather than in a classroom and the royal website does mention that her curriculum included art and music among other things. She was raised amidst one of the world's biggest collection of artwork. The environment that fostered this interest in artwork was not limited to physical items, but even more so the people around her. The Queen Mother was a significant collector, acquiring works by Sisley and Monet. The Duke of Edinburgh, Elizabeth's husband, was a passionate watercolour painter who studied under Edward Seago. Her son Prince Charles, who has a strong devotion to the preservation of the architectural environment, is even more proficient with watercolors. When describing the Royal Collection, Prince Charles once said that “each monarch has commissioned contemporary artists to record various aspects of their lives: important family occasions, their children, dogs, horses, friends, great statesman and national events.”

Although the Queen was not always forthcoming about her artistic choices, it is evident that she admired art. She also was a source of inspiration for artists. During her reign as monarch of the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth sat for hundreds of official pictures. Painting the Queen offered a particular challenge for artists because she is one of the most photographed and painted figures in history. Her likeness was recorded by visual artists of the 20th and 21st centuries in their own unique ways, from Warhol to Freud, from family matriarch to national symbol. On September 8, as her reign came to an end, not just England but the entire world lost its queen. We salute her for all of her contributions to the art world.

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