Meanwhile, Julian Gascoigne, Sotheby’s old master paintings specialist, has assembled a jaw-dropping showcase of royal portraits and manuscripts – headed by the imposing Navy Portrait. ‘It makes a serious impact,’ he enthuses. For Gascoigne, it’s the lynchpin of an exhibition that includes ‘portraits of the other six female monarchs of Britain, from Mary Queen of Scots through to the present Queen, which will be coming together from various private collections for potentially the first time in their history ‘. The Duke of Marlborough has generously loaned a portrait from Blenheim Palace of Queen Anne by Sir Godfrey Kneller.
the Navy Portrait is a major work of international fame and has been housed at Woburn Abbey, the Bedfords’ seat, since at least the 18th century. The Duchess of Bedford considered it an easy decision to lend the portrait to Sotheby’s for this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition. ‘Andrew [the duke] and I are always looking for new opportunities to share Woburn’s treasures with a wider audience. the Navy Portrait is an important portrait of a woman, and a female monarch, at a time when women were not often at the forefront of public life. In a reign that lasted 44 years, Elizabeth was a strong figurehead for England,’ she said.