The great British art swindle | The Sunday Times


Show all

The great British art swindle

Many priceless works of art were sold to the public after Charles I’s execution. Then the palaces snatched them back. So who really owns the Royal Collection? By Jerry Brotton

Published: 2 April 2006
Pay £13.50 to walk round the state rooms of Windsor Castle, and you get a brief glimpse of one of the greatest art collections in the world. Rembrandts, Vermeers, Holbeins and Van Dycks hang from the walls. If you’re lucky, you can see a handful of the 600 exquisite da Vinci drawings in the Drawings Gallery. Travel to Hampton Court and, for about the same price, you can see remarkable works by Mantegna, Raphael and Veronese. Some people know that this is perhaps the finest, and certainly what the royal palaces website proudly calls “the largest private collection of art in the world”. It contains a staggering 7,000 paintings, 500,000 prints, and 30,000 watercolours and drawings.

But what most people don’t know is that the nucleus of the collection of 1,300 old-master pictures belonged to King Charles I, and was sold off following his execution in 1649. Many of the

Subscribe now
Already a subscriber?

To see the full article you need to subscribe