Interview with Rufus Bird of The Royal Collection Trust


Rufus Bird gives us an exclusive look behind the scenes of the Royal Collection Trust.


16th August 2013

Hotel 41

London’s Royal Collection Trust is responsible for the oversight of some of the area’s most stunning and important landmarks, from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle. We sat down with Rufus Bird, the Deputy Surveyor of The Queen’s Works of Art, for an informative look at the organisation’s work behind the scenes. Read on for exclusive details about these iconic landmarks and the priceless works of art inside. Best of all, if you’re planning on staying at Hotel 41 in Belgravia or The Rubens at the Palace Hotel, you’ll be perfectly situated to see many of these gorgeous works of art, firsthand.

What is your role within Royal Collection Trust, and what does it entail?

Since 2010 when I joined Royal Collection Trust I have held the post of Deputy Surveyor of The Queen’s Works of Art. Whilst The Director of the Royal Collection is also Surveyor of The Queen’s Works of Art, my post is as senior curator of decorative arts and leader of the team of curators and conservators that are responsible for caring for all decorative arts in the Royal Collection (i.e. furniture, porcelain, silver, armour, gold boxes, tapestries, sculpture)

Why has the opening of the State Rooms and The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace been so important?

The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace has existed since 1962 but was completely rebuilt and significantly enlarged in time to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. At the same time a new Queen’s Gallery was created at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. These spaces allow works from the Royal Collection to be displayed and appreciated in state of the art gallery conditions, rather than in the Palace surroundings of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. The galleries also permit exciting thematic presentations of artworks such as the current display ‘In Fine Style: the art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion’ or the recent display in Edinburgh ‘Cairo to Constantinople’ which showcased photographs taken on the Prince of Wales’s tours of the Middle East in the 1860s alongside some of the objects excavated during that trip. The opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace is important as it allows the public to visit the rooms in which The Queen, in her role as Head of State and Head of the Nation and the Commonwealth performs official duties such as investitures, state visits and official receptions. Thanks to the magnificent collection of paintings and works of art these rooms are filled with exceptional pieces.

What important pieces of art from the Royal Collection are on display at Buckingham Palace?

The painting collection in the Picture Gallery is world-class. I would single out Rubens’s self-portrait presented to Charles I, George III’s purchase (unknowingly) of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, George IV’s purchase of Rembrandt’s Shipbuilder & his Wife, the two monumental canvases by van Dyck, Charles I on horseback with M. de St-Antoine and The Great Peace. In the domain of Works of Art the two pietra dura cabinets, one by Adam Weisweiler, the other by Martin Carlin; Sevres porcelain including the Pot Pourri a Vaisseau, which formerly belonged to Mme de Pompadour and the Table des Grands Capitaines commissioned by Napoleon from Sevres but presented by a grateful Louis XVIII to George IV following the French King’s restoration to the French throne.

Has the opening of Buckingham Palace meant a lot more active conservation of the works in the Collection?

Not especially, but the income generated from visitors is returned 100% to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity, and is devoted to supporting its charitable objectives, such as ensuring the conservation of the Collection, as well as research and publication of the Collection both in print and digital media. Opening the Palace has allowed for more access to the Royal Collection in both physical and virtual terms.

Clarence House has re-opened in 2013 – what can visitors expect to see there?

The Prince of Wales sensitively represented his grandmother’s collection after he moved to Clarence House. Due to the disruption caused by the London Olympics in 2012 Clarence did not open and this year Clarence House will be looking much as it did in 2011 and previous years when it opened during the summer months. The rooms are filled with superb Chelsea and Meissen porcelain, mounted Chinese porcelain, the only painting by Claude Monet in the Royal Collection.

When are the official residences of The Queen open?

Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh are open all year with the exception of state occasions. Buckingham Palace is open during the summer months when The Queen is at Balmoral Castle. The rest of the year sees almost constant use for receptions, investitures and other State and official events (such as the annual Diplomatic Reception for the entire Diplomatic Corps in London).

Apart from The Queen’s Gallery, what are your favourite gallery spaces in London?

Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn is very special. Pilar Ordovas is putting on fantastic shows at her gallery in Savile Row. The ceramic galleries in the V&A are wonderful and the new furniture gallery there is radical and exciting.

Where should a visitor to London go and see something really special that not everyone knows about?

Spitalfields Market & Brick Lane. The many London churches are often not visited: The Oratory in South Kensington has incredible singing; the Grinling Gibbons carvings in St James’s Piccadilly are a treat; Christ Church Spitalfields is a remarkable space.

The Queen’s Coronation, 1953 is at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace until 29  September 2013.

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 6 October 2013.

For more information about Royal Collection Trust,


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