British Columbia

Royal Collection at Vancouver Art Gallery features works from Renaissance to iPhone era

Portraits in the Royal Collection include some of the most well-known works in the world. If the paintings could talk, they would tell stories from the Renaissance to the First World War and beyond.

The portrait series hangs in palaces across England

David Dawson painted this image of the Queen siting for a portrait session with artist Lucian Freud, in 2001. A Freud self-portrait will also be on display. (Royal Collection Trust)

The only surviving portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is on display alongside more than 80 select works from England's fabled Royal Collection now at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The exhibition head calls it a "wonderful treasure" and it's part of a collection amassed by British monarchs spanning from 15th century Tudors to the current House of Windsor.

"If you were a king you needed to furnish your palaces ... not only with paintings but with furniture, with tapestries, with carpets," said Theresa Mary Morton, head of exhibitions for the Royal Collection, in an interview with CBC Radio story producer, Margaret Gallagher.

Works span centuries 

The gallery's Portrait of the Artist exhibition features portraits of influential artists drawn by their friends, pupils and peers.

The works span from the Renaissance age to the iPhone era, including the portrait of da Vinci later in his life.

It is believed to be the last surviving portrait of the artist, and depicts him with a long beard.

It was sketched by da Vinci's pupil, Francesco Melzi, who inherited the artist's collection when he died in 1519.

"There's the romantic idea of an artist being somebody up in a garret, impoverished and nobody knows who they are," said Morton.

"There were friendships between artists. That comradeship that made the whole art of the portrait and the self portrait something that is quite unique."

Rembrandt van Rijn, A Self-portrait in Plumed Cap, c. 1634 (Royal Collection Trust)

Nearly 500 years after da Vinci's death, artist David Hockney presented Queen Elizabeth with his own self portrait, drawn on an iPad and printed with an ink jet on paper.

The digital painting is composed of layers of colourful lines that add a contemporary flare to the heavily historical exhibition.

Hockney's self-portrait was created in 2012 after the Queen presented him with The Order of Merit, which recognizes distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, and literature.

It is one of a handful of portraits on loan to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which belong to the Order of Merit Series.

That portrait series dates back to 1906 and was commissioned by King Edward VII.

Portrait of the Artist: An Exhibition from the Royal Collection is at the Vancouver Art Gallery from Oct. 28 to Feb. 4, 2018.

To hear a preview of the show with The Early Edition's story producer Margaret Gallagher, click the audio titled Portrait of the Artist.

Francesco Melzi's red chalk portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1515–18 (Royal Collection Trust)