David Starkey, guest-curator of this exceptional display at the National Maritime Museum
, said: This exhibition, which brings to life the extraordinary and varied history of the Thames as Britains royal river and London's grandest street, is a feast for the eyes and all the senses. It evokes the sights, sounds and even the smells of half a millennium of royal river pageantry and popular celebration. But, most importantly and originally, Royal River also shows how the grandest royal river pageants have always been used to celebrate the coronation and inauguration of Tudor and Stuart Queens. What more appropriate way of celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of The Queen, who will herself, at the climax of the celebrations, lead another grand royal river pageant?
The oldest known copy of Handels Water Music, Bazalgettes original contract drawings for the construction of the Thames embankment, Anne Boleyns personal music book, the magnificent stern carvings from the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert III, a remarkable collection of paintings by Canaletto, and a stuffed swan just some of the hundreds of diverse objects brought together by the National Maritime Museum to illustrate the royal history of Londons great river in a major new exhibition.
The Thames is Londons grandest street. For hundreds of years it has been a unique site for royal, national and civic ceremony and celebration. Providing a larger stage than any street on land, the river has seen the pomp of spectacular coronations, the music and fireworks of extravagant processions, and the bustle of festive frost fairs, where rich and poor mingled on its frozen surface. Seen by todays Londoners as a line that divides the city north from south, this great thoroughfare once connected royal palaces and pleasure gardens, and was itself a focus of entertainment and merrymaking. As the river shaped London, so London shaped the river: the Thames has been constantly changed and improved with the addition of new bridges, tunnels and embankments, a reflection of its life as a busy working river where tens of thousands made their living.
Royal River explores the many and varied uses of the Thames across 500 years of British history. A wealth of fascinating objects take visitors from Anne Boleyns coronation procession to Lord Nelsons funeral, from the gilded magnificence of the Lord Mayors pageant to the noxious horror of the Great Stink, and from the great riverside seats of regal power to the floating palaces of the royal yachts. Among the paintings, manuscripts and beautiful artefacts chosen for the exhibition, highlights include the rarely seen uniforms, silver and barge decorations from the Citys many livery companies, an elaborate silver microscope made for George III and the 16th-century Pearl Sword, which to this day the monarch must touch upon entering the City of London.
The exhibition comprises nearly 400 objects, including 50 objects generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection and over 250 items on loan from museums, galleries and private collections across Europe and America, many of which have never been on public display before. It also draws on an array of objects from the National Maritime Museums own pre-eminent collections.
Royal River marks the 75th anniversary of the National Maritime Museum, which was opened by King George VI on 27 April 1937. The Museums opening was one of the new Kings first official public engagements. His speech from that day, in which he praised the the qualities of Drake, Nelson and Franklin will be on display in the exhibition, alongside his Admiral of the Fleet uniform.
Marcus Agius, Chairman of Barclays said: I am delighted Barclays is sponsoring Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames at the National Maritime Museum. The Museum has always exhibited with distinction on the topic of Britain and the sea, showing the contemporary significance of maritime events and the stories of this island nation. Royal River will attract visitors from London and across the world to remind them about Londons greatest thoroughfare the River Thames. The river has played a crucial role for trade and finance in London, of which Barclays has been a part for over 300 years.
Lord Sterling, Chairman of the National Maritime Museum said: 2012 will be a remarkable year. In addition to the momentous occasion of The Queens Diamond Jubilee, Greenwich will become Londons new Royal Borough and a major venue for the 2012 Games. Royal River will be the first major exhibition in the Museums new Sammy Ofer Wing in 2012. It gives us great pleasure that this exhibition has been sponsored by a great British bank, Barclays. This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the National Maritime Museum. On 27 April 1937 the 11-year-old Princess Elizabeth attended the opening ceremony as a birthday treat, beginning an enduring royal association with the museum. This association has continued with His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh who over 63 years, first as a trustee and from 2000 as Patron, has given the Museum the great benefit of his constant and extraordinarily active support.