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This year, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of Robert F. Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. For those who are unaware, Scott and four companions reached the Pole on 17th January - having been beaten by the Norwegian, Amundsen, and his team a little over a month before - and died three months later on their way back to their base camp. To mark the occasion, an exhibition of Antarctic photography is taking place in The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London. This exhibition includes photographs from Scott's expedition (known as the 'Terra Nova') and Ernest Shackleton's 'Endurance' expedition of 1914-17.
I've developed a bit of an interest in Antarctica, and particularly this period in its history (known as the 'Golden Age' of Antarctic exploration), after reading a novel, Antarctic Navigation by Elizabeth Arthur, last year. I thought this exhibition looked very interesting and decided to pay it a visit, managing to persuade two friends to accompany me.
Photographs were very important to the explorers on these expeditions. They acted as proof of their achievements and evidence of the breathtaking environment they were surrounded by. They recorded scientific findings, the beauty of Antarctica, and the hardships of the journey. They also helped to raise the profile of the expeditions in the public eye, provided material for subsequent exhibitions, and could be sold as prints to raise money to pay debts.
The photographs were donated to the reigning monarch at the time, hence their appearance in the Royal Collection. I will write about the exhibition itself first and the Queen's Gallery towards the end of the review.
***'The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography'***
The exhibition takes place in two large rooms in the Queen's Gallery. As well as pictures, editions of books about the expeditions are on display alongside a map of Antarctica and a timeline. Also displayed are the British flags used on both the 'Endurance' and 'Terra Nova' expeditions, the last recovered from the tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers.
The first part of the exhibition covers Robert F. Scott's 'Terra Nova' expedition of 1910-12. It takes place in one large room with two smaller rooms alongside. The majority of these photographs were taken by official photographer Herbert Ponting.
These photographs are incredibly beautiful, stunning and dramatic. Looking at them I got a sense of the excitement Ponting must have felt at the strangeness of this new world. Several scenes involve tiny figures standing beneath huge ice sculptures ('Castle Berg', a picture of an iceberg that resembled a medieval castle, is a notable example). Another shot shows the ship, the 'Terra Nova', taken through an overhang of ice. Two pictures of amusing, adorable Adelie penguins hang on opposite sides of the wall (as postcards, these became bestsellers after the original exhibition).
A number of photographs show the members of the expedition in and outside the hut (which still stands to this day). The explorers look happy and optimistic about the future. One shot of Scott's birthday party is particularly poignant, as it was to be his last.
In a side room are photographs of the five members of the polar party (the rest of the group remained behind): Edgar Evans, Edward Wilson, Robert Falcon Scott, Henry Robertson Bowers, Lawrence 'Titus' Oates. All of these men reached the South Pole and died on their return.
Ponting did not form part of the polar party, so the photographs from this stage of the exhibition were taken by Henry Bowers, to whom Ponting taught photography while in Antarctica. When the photographs were originally exhibited, these photographs were displayed in the centre of the room with Ponting's around the outside. This exhibition has replicated that and these central photos detail the party on the move, pulling their sledges, and their achievement of reaching the South Pole. The men look exhausted and dejected - perhaps unsurprising as they had travelled all that way only to be beaten in the race to be first.
The final photograph is of the cairn built over the tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers, located in November after a search party was sent out to look for the men.
Shackleton's 'Endurance' expedition of 1914-17 is the other expedition covered in this exhibition. Originally aiming to cross the polar continent, it became apparent that it was appropriately named, as the ship 'Endurance' became trapped in pack ice and eventually crushed. Without a ship, the only hope the crew had of escape was to use the lifeboats. The explorers made it to dry land, and Shackleton and a number of his men set off on a risky and uncertain trip to South Georgia in order to get help, leaving the remainder to wait and hope.
Photographer Frank Hurley was responsible for the photographs in this section of the exhibition. He documented the adventures of the ship as it became trapped in the ice and eventually crushed. His pictures also have a strong narrative quality which makes them particularly interesting. They capture the beauty of the ice and the smallness and relative fragility of the 'Endurance' surrounded by this beautiful but lethal stuff. Several photographs detail the men going about their day to day business, playing chess, exercising the dogs or carrying out scientific experiments. I do wish a bit more information had been provided. For example, several pictures referred to the 'Welsh stowaway' - I would have liked to know more about him and how he ended up on the ship!
Hurley was not chosen to accompany Shackleton on his quest for help. Therefore his later pictures show the life he lived for four months with the other men left behind, waiting for Shackleton to return, living in a hut made of the two remaining lifeboats and living off penguin meat. This is fascinating in itself.
I found it interesting that some of the photographs were renamed to give the impression that they were images of a different event. For example, the photograph that Hurley claimed was of Shackleton's return to rescue the men was actually his departure in search of help. This adds to the narrative quality of the pictures but not their authenticity!
I found the whole exhibition fascinating and managed to spend nearly two hours in there, which was impressive considering there were only two large rooms. I thought that the photographs were well presented and the accompanying objects were well chosen. The map and timeline provided made it possible to understand the pictures in context.
The two sets of photographs provided an interesting contrast, with Ponting's pictures that were largely made up of beautiful shots of interesting landmarks, and Hurley's photographs that generally told a story. One of my friends preferred the latter, as she said that she found them more interesting. I however preferred the former, as I thought that they really captured the beauty and fascination of Antarctica.
Overall, though, both sets of photographs were beautiful, informative and fascinating and credit must go to both photographers for taking such care with their work in such harsh and hostile conditions. They must have felt frustrated at not being able to record what they saw in colour, but their black and white shots are stunning and dramatic.
As a slight aside, I found the exhibition made me think about the nature of success. On the way back one of my friends said that Shackleton had seemed to be more successful. But was he? I pointed out that he didn't actually achieve his aim of crossing Antarctica. However, he and his crew demonstrated great courage and all of his men survived against the odds. Scott, on the other hand, succeeded in his aim of reaching the South Pole (albeit too late to be the first) - but his polar team all died. Who was the most successful? I am still pondering this!
***The Queen's Gallery***
The gallery is part of Buckingham Palace and can be visited in conjunction with the State Rooms and the Royal Mews (stables). However you can also choose to visit the Gallery alone. It puts on around three exhibitions a year and is open all year round unlike the State Rooms and the Royal Mews which are open during the summer season only.
*Opening Times and Prices*
The Gallery is open daily from 10.00 to 17.30. It is closed on the following dates in 2012:
16 April-3 May
8 October-1 November
Prices at the time of writing this review (January 2012) are as follows:
Over 60/Student (ID needed) £6.75
Under 17 £3.75
Under 5 Free
Family (2 adults and up to 3 under 17) £18.75
Higher prices apply for combined tickets to the Royal Mews and/or the State Rooms.
If you buy your ticket direct (either online or in person) you can get it stamped at the end of your visit which makes it valid for a whole year. This is great value as it means you can go back to subsequent exhibitions at the Gallery. It's worth noting that the summer months are very crowded and it might be difficult to visit with your ticket at these times, as timed tickets are normally on sale for this period.
This year-long validation does not apply if you buy your ticket from a third party. This may not matter to you if, for instance, you are coming from a different part of the country on a trip as you may not be able to return within a year. For someone like me, however, who lives in London, this is ideal.
The Queen's Gallery is located on Buckingham Palace Road next to Buckingham Palace itself. If visiting by tube, Green Park station (near Piccadilly Circus) is a short walk away and the route through the park is very scenic. If you are coming from the other direction, Victoria Underground and National Rail station is almost directly south from the Gallery. Tour buses and normal red buses also stop outside. The Gallery is clearly signposted and is next to the Royal Mews.
As might be expected, security is very tight here owing to its proximity to Buckingham Palace. You have to undergo a bag search and walk through an airport-style scanner. However all the staff are very friendly and cheerful and didn't make me feel uncomfortable during this process. The gift shop is right next to the ticket desk so you can visit without paying for admission. After buying your ticket and walking through security you get to the gallery itself. There is a free cloakroom where coats and heavy bags can be left - we took full advantage of this. Toilets are available too and these are clean and smart.
Audio guides are available - the voice on the guide for this exhibition is the explorer David Hempleman-Adams - but I didn't bother with one. Photography for non-commercial purposes is permitted, but not flash photography.
The shop is well-stocked and sells the usual Royal memorabilia, some of it tat and some of it in rather better taste. A number of items relating to this particular exhibition were available, ranging from cuddly penguins to a glossy photography book. I bought some postcards, which I rather regret as they were quite expensive - £5.95 for a pack of ten - but then I was very interested in the subject matter and I have a mind to frame them and put them on my wall!
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I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this exhibition and my experience of the Gallery as a whole was very positive. My friends thought that £7.50 was a good price for a year's admission, but felt that it was a bit steep for one exhibition alone. I would personally have been happy to pay just for this exhibition as I feel it was worth it - however I do have an interest in the subject matter.
I would highly recommend 'The Heart of the Great Alone' which is on until 15th April 2012. However if you can't make it or aren't interested I would recommend the Queen's Gallery in general as it is well worth a visit. The next exhibition is 'Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist' from 4 May to 7 October 2012.
The website for the exhibition is available at http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/micros​ites/HOTGA/ and a number of photographs are available to view there.
If you are interested in this topic, I would wholeheartedly recommend the novel Antarctic Navigation by Elizabeth Arthur, a fictional account of one woman's quest to visit Antarctica and recreate Scott's ill-fated expedition (I want to write a proper review on this at some point). Also, if you live in or near Cambridge, the Scott Polar Research Institute has an exhibition about Scott and the 'Terra Nova' expedition at the moment.
A book made up of photographs from the exhibition has been released to coincide with it. Entitled, like the exhibition, The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography, it is available from the Queen's Gallery gift shop and from Amazon.
After two and a half years of living in London, I finally got round to visiting an exhibition at the Queens Gallery. I've wanted to go for ages, and fancied the one at Holyroodhouse as well, but whenever I was there with my mum we didn't fancy the exhibition that was on, and every time she's visited me in London we didn't fancy the one here.
The Queens Gallery is located at Buckingham Palace, or as I mention there is also one in Edinburgh. It runs several exhibitions through the year, often showcasing items from the Royal Collection. In 2007 they also had exhibitions celebrating the Queen and Prince Philipp's wedding anniversary. Entry to the Gallery is £8.50 for adults. As my dad chose not to visit, and I got in free as I was pushing my mum's wheelchair, so it only cost us £8.50.
It's not very cool these days, but I like the royal family. I love the history, the splendour and having met the Queen (not that I'm showing off or anything...) I think she's lovely. She reminded me of my gran and was so nice to everyone she spoke to. I even worked for her once, as a waitress at her Golden Jubilee garden party at Balmoral. I love the jewels and treasures of royalty, and have a great interest in European royalty of the 19th-20th centuries.
At the time of our visit, early in July this year, the Queen's Gallery was showing two exhibitions - Treasures of the Royal Collection and French Porcelain for English Palaces: Sèvres from the Royal Collection. We were particularly keen on the Treasures exhibition, which promised a wide variety of objects including paintings, furniture, armour, porcelain and sculpture, but most exciting, jewels and work by Fabergé. My mum once saw a whole exhibition of Fabergé at the Gallery in Edinburgh, but I haven't seen any, and anyway, you can never have too much Fabergé, so we were very excited! We were interested in the Sèvres exhibition too, but we wouldn't have gone just for that. The entrance prices covered both exhibitions.
We paid our entry and went to the entrance. There are metal detectors and you have to empty your pockets. The Gallery is attached to the Palace, and the staff are employees of the Royal Family, so security is understandably tight. Once we were through we were pointed towards the lift. Before we went upstairs to the exhibitions (located on the first floor) we visited the toilets, which as you would expect were very clean and well maintained.
On reaching the exhibition floor we were offered an audio guide, but as my mum is a walking (or wheeling on certain days) guide to the history of the British Monarchy, we declined. There were useful information signs next to each item telling us when they dated from, who had acquired them into the Collection, and a little bit of information about the item itself. All the walls were lined with paintings, and there was a lot of furniture, porcelain and sculpture to see in the larger rooms. The jewels, miniatures and Fabergé were in smaller, darkened rooms to the side, with some excellent lighting in the display cases. Obviously, the sparkly things were the most popular, and it was very difficult to take the wheelchair into these very small rooms, so we parked it outside and my mum walked in - this was not a problem for her, but for those who are wheelchair bound it would require more understanding and accommodating from other visitors.
I won't go into too much detail on the items we saw, because obviously the exhibitions change so this is not strictly a review of the exhibitions. However, I would like to mention my highlights. There was a large selection of Fabergé on display, including one of the famous Easter Eggs purchased by Tsar Nicolas II for his wife Alexandra - I am very interested in the history of the Tsars, so to see this was special. Also on display were two of the famous Cullinan diamonds, Cullinan II and Cullinan IV. You can look these up online, they really are quite spectacular. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Sèvres collection. It is very recognisable, but it is very pretty with beautiful colours. There was some interesting information on each collection, and on how long it takes to make.
I think we spent around an hour and a half looking at everything in the two exhibitions. The website says to allow an hour to an hour and a half, but I will say that we didn't read every single information board, so if you are particularly keen on everything in an exhibition, you can probably expect to take longer.
Once we exited the exhibition, we went for a look round the shop. Having visited Holyroodhouse a few times, I knew what to expect from the shop and I wasn't disappointed. Prices are steep but there are a lot of lovely items. You can get the usual souvenirs, keyrings and t-shirts, but they all appear to be very good quality. There are also toiletries, china and jewellery, all inspired by the Palaces or the Royal Collection. Every time I visit one of these shops I want to buy some china, they have some lovely ranges which aren't all obviously covered in the Coat of Arms, but I can't justify the cost (upwards of £30 for a cup and saucer). I did once find myself a bargain in the Edinburgh shop however - having visited the Royal Yacht Britannia the day before I was delighted to find a book on the yachts design and life for only £5. And it was an excellent read too.
One drawback to note - there is no cafe. During the summer when the Palace has its State Opening (end July to end September), there is a refreshments tent available, but it does not sound like this sells much, just snacks and drinks. As we visited prior to the State Opening this year, I can't even tell you if this tent is accessible to those only visiting the Gallery. So my advice would be, take into account the fact there is no cafe!
The staff at the Gallery were lovely, they were discreet but incredibly friendly and helpful. They treated all the visitors with courtesy and respect, and treated my mum in her wheelchair like royalty.
Obviously, the decision to visit the Gallery may rest on the exhibition(s) which are on at the given time, but in general I would strongly recommend a visit. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves there, and will definitely be keeping an eye on future exhibitions.