This walk will take you from Hyde Park to Buckingham Palace and offer up some of the finest art in London. You will need to get an early start to get it all in since there are three parts to the Buckingham Palace tour. However, if you run out of time, don’t worry, they will allow you to return another day with your ticket.
Apsley House is located at the Southeast corner of Hyde Park and just outside Hyde Park Corner Tube stop. Number One London is the former house of the Duke of Wellington, who is most famous for his victory over Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The Duke was an avid art collector, which can be seen in the rooms of Apsely house. Paintings by many famous artists are hung throughout the first floor, many of them part of the Spanish Royal Collection which came into Wellington’s possession after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. The collection contains some 200 of the finest works of art in London. It is a treasure trove of pictures which originally belonged to the Hapsburg and Bourbon kings of Spain, and which were plundered from the Spanish royal palaces by Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph. A colossal nude statue of Napoleon by Canova dominates the stairwell at the centre of the house.
Among the famous pictures on view are Velázquez’s celebrated The Waterseller of Seville and Goya’s renowned equestrian portrait of Wellington. Other works include Italian painters such as Correggio and Giulio Romano, and works by Spanish ‘Golden Age’ artists including Velázquez and Murillo. The general bought important 17th-century Dutch paintings, as well as a series of French and British portraits of his famous contemporaries and battle-scenes depicting his victories.
Throughout his military career, the duke was presented with complete services of silver plate and porcelain as thank you offerings from grateful nations. Many of these can be seen in the Plate and China Room. Don’t miss the Sevres porcelain with Egyptian designs.
When you’ve finished with Apsley House, take a look at the Wellington Arch and cross over to Green Park where you can walk along a wide path that parallels the road Constitutional Hill. Buckingham Palace will start to appear on your right. If you are in need of refreshment, you can get a coffee/tea and snack at the outdoor kiosk in the park. Now cross over and go around to the far side of Buckingham Palace, which is on Buckingham Gate road.
Buckingham Palace consists of three attractions. You can buy tickets separately or all together at the ticket center. Further down Buckingham Gate is The Royal Mews, which features the royal carriages. You will be able to see the actual carriages used for coronations and weddings plus some of the royal horses.
The Queen’s Gallery is the second attraction. This gallery is a permanent space dedicated to changing exhibitions of items from the Royal Collection, which includes a wide-range of treasures. I was fortunate enough to view the exhibit of paintings and mementos from the Victorian period, “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love.” The exhibit illustrated the deep love the two enjoyed and displayed gifts given to each other. For example, Queen Victoria had a large painting done of The Prince Consort’s favorite greyhound, Eos as a surprise present. It is a striking portrait of the elegant black dog on a red background. The Queen also commissioned the most talented watercolorists of the day to document their lives together. She insisted that each be the same size so she could put the illustrations of state events, balls and their travels all in large albums. These images are extremely detailed and little masterpieces in themselves. Who needs a digital camera when you have your own army of watercolorists on hand to paint your world! I had recently watched the film “Young Victoria” so seeing this exhibit really gave me an intimate feeling of their lives together.
Finally, the last stop for the day is to pay a visit to the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. The flag on the roof tells you whether the Queen is in or not although your ticket does not include a royal audience with her Majesty. However, I was excited enough to enter the back courtyard entrance and stroll through halls that have seen royal families come and go since 1837. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live here. On your tour you will see the ball room, throne room and where extraordinary Britains are tapped on the shoulders to become knights of the realm. I was pleased to see a new Vermeer, “A Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman,” in a long hall of masterpieces including works by Rubens, Hals and Rembrandt. My favorite room in the palace was the music room which overlooks the lovely back gardens leading to the lake. Mini orange trees flavor the air and the lattice ceiling has motifs of thistles, roses and clover, symbolizing the three areas of the British Isles: Scotland, England and Ireland.
As you exit the palace, you can choose to stay a while and take in The Queen’s view while having some tea on the back patio. And before you leave the last gate, make sure to get your ticket stamped so you may return for free within the next year.