Attingham Trust: Royal Collection Studies

Focused and intense, profoundly enriching and stimulating, the 2015 Royal Collection Studies course was an unforgettable experience. The Royal Collection is one of the largest and most important collections of fine and decorative arts in the world and these treasures form an integral part of a remarkable range of Royal residencies and other historical buildings and places of interest to architectural and art historians and curators. As a unique record of the tastes, collecting passions and interests of British monarchs over the centuries, and supported by superbly researched publications and exhibitions, the Royal Collection provided a perfect environment for some thirty delegates from ten countries to study British and European art and culture.

From lectures and talks to tours and discussions, the challenges of content and format delivery to curators, researchers and dealers with varied subject expertise and interests, were creatively overcome in what I felt was a well-balanced program with a range of subject choices. Particularly rewarding was the privileged after-hours access to Windsor Castle and the artworks on display there as well as in several other palaces, storage, archives, library, print room and conservation workshops where some of the rarely seen paintings and decorative art objects were prepared for display by conservators using state-of-the-art methods. Equally significant was the guidance of scholars from the Royal Collection Studies faculty and specialist curators and hosts; the commitment, energy and generous time dedicated to the course by the Director of the Royal Collection, Jonathan Marsden, was particularly valued and appreciated by all.

The brilliant commentary and personal perspectives on English history and culture from Giles Waterfield, Royal Collection Studies’ Director and our daily companion, ensured a most enjoyable as well as thought-provoking time throughout. Finally, the Attingham Trust Study Day on Royal Greenwich, with insightful presentations on the plans for, and challenges facing the refurbishment of Inigo Jones’ Queen’s House and other restoration projects, was an exciting addition to the program to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Royal Collection Studies.

Historical decorative arts collections in Australia are inextricably linked to a greater or lesser degree to European histories, art styles and traditions. Among the strengths of the collection of Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences are both British and Australian 18th and 19th century ceramics, metalwork, jewellery and furniture informed by Victorian historicism as well as the Aesthetic Movement, British Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles. Some of these works were displayed in Australia’s international exhibitions of 1879 and 1880, which were inspired by the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. Many other decorative objects, modelled on European designs, represented colonial Australia at British and European exhibitions. As curator for these objects, I have benefitted immeasurably from the inspections, talks and presentations that have extended my understanding of British and European art and history and also of design processes and materials technology. While practically all viewings, tours and visits were outstanding, particular treats in areas of my curatorial interest included such extraordinary sessions as that in the Tower of London exploring Crown Jewels with Jonathan Marsden, the Sèvres ceramics presentation by Dame Rosalind Savill at Windsor Castle and the visit to that fabulous Mintons extravaganza, the Royal Dairy at Frogmore, Windsor Home Park. Meissen porcelain services featured in the Painting Paradise exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery and English papier-mâché furniture at Frogmore House will also directly inform my research of museum objects in Sydney. I would like to gratefully acknowledge the special assistance of Senior Curator Caroline de Guitaut who offered additional information and enabled an extra viewing in support of my research on Australian metalwork and Fabergé.

Alongside art and court history studies, many opportunities were created for informal discussions throughout the course. The inclusion of topical issues facing 21st century collections ensured the participants’ keen involvement and a valuable experience exchange took place, with subjects ranging from display and interpretation, interiors restoration, marketing, online access and community engagement. Furthermore, the course facilitated professional network-building and friendships which I know will be of great benefit to the entire group in our future curatorial and research endeavours.


Eva Czernis-Ryl, Curator, Decorative Arts and Design, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney. Nina Stanton Attingham Scholar 2015.