Biographies come in all shapes and forms, all of which will be celebrated in Ayrshire next month.
Michael Hall, editor of The Burlington, a magazine dedicated to art, has written a biography of the Royal Collection. One of the most extensive art collections any where on the world, Michael’s book accompanied a BBC Series, entitled Art, Passion and Power – The Story of The Royal Collection.
He will be one of the guest speakers at the forthcoming Boswell Book Festival, the world’s only literary festival of biography, taking place in Ayrshire from May 4-6.
Michael said: ‘I write about art and edit an art magazine, The Burlington, so it is most certainly a life-long love.
‘With Art, Passion and Power – The Royal Collection, the BBC were producing a television series and I was suggested at short notice to write the book which would accompany the series.
‘Some parts of the collection I knew previously, as I am a 19th century specialist, and had done a lot of work on the Victorian collections. However, some of these had not been seen by many people before.
‘By collaborating with the Royal archives and being able to choose the content, I was indeed like a kiddie in a sweet shop!’
During his researches, Michael was able to come across several things he hadn’t previously expected.
He explained: ‘There were some surprises. It’s well-known that much of the Royal Collection was sold after Charles I and the contents were dispersed throughout Europe.
‘Very little survives from the period before that. That was really brought home to me – people are interested in Charles I, and what Charles II did to try and retrieve as much of it as he could.”
Charles I’s Royal Collection introduced a new artistic language to British art. The sensuality of Titian and the epic canvases of Tintoretto are still in the Royal Collection today. However, the English Civil War and Charles I’s execution ended the first great age of royal collecting, with the king’s artworks sold in ‘the most extravagant royal car-boot sale in history’.
The Boswell Book Festival is being held at Dumfries House, which itself has a Royal connection, after the building and its content were saved by Prince Charles.
Michael said: ‘There are many items relating to Scotland in the connection. Arguably the one great early painting that they have is Scottish, the famous portrait of James III and Queen Margaret, by Hugo van der Goes. It is on loan from the Royal Collection to the National Galleries of Scotland. That’s the greatest pre-1500 art.
‘Also of note, Holyrood Palace is the only Charles II building to survive, as sadly his great palace at Winchester was destroyed in a fire at the end of the 19th century.”
The writer is particularly looking forward to visiting DUmfries House, which was saved by £20million from the Prince of Wales and £5million from other donors, when its contents, dating back to the 1750s, were due to be sold off by its owner, the 7th Marquess of Bute. Much of the content had been boxed up, ready to be taken to London for auction, before this intervention.
Michael added: ‘I remember talking to Johnny Dumfries, as the Marquess was known, so this is a most exciting opportunity. It’s going to be so wonderful to see this magnificent building for myself.’
Tickets for the Boswell Book Festival are available HERE or by calling 01563 554 900.