Rooms & Gardens
Inside the Palace
Words by Ashley Hicks
Images from Buckingham Palace: The Interiors, Ashley Hicks
As Buckingham Palace welcomes its newest resident, King Charles III, the palace and its iconic exterior remains in the global spotlight. But the 18th century landmark's extraordinary interiors are the real jewel in the crown, as detailed in the sumptuous book, Buckingham Palace: The Interiors, by artist and photographer, Ashley Hicks. If you've ever wondered what the inside of Buckingham Palace looks like, read on for a private tour.
My fascination with Buckingham Palace began as a child. In our nursery, there was a model of the East Front, the grey stone façade onto the Mall, added to the existing building by Sir Aston Webb in just over three months in 1913, fitted around its windows without breaking a single pane of glass. What the palace model was doing in our nursery I don’t know; I imagine our father thought it made a picturesque toy for us.
As children my sisters and I went to the Palace every June to watch our grandfather, as Colonel of the Life Guards and Gold Stick-in-Waiting, ride back along the Mall with The Queen after her birthday parade. We would see the extraordinary Chinese rooms hidden behind the grey stone façade, my father explaining to me that it all came from the Prince Regent’s seaside fantasy palace, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. I was fascinated by the ivory pagodas and ships, the gold dragons and jewelled trees.
"I was determined to bring out the beauty and glamour of the rooms in my photographs, which often get lost now with artificially-lit, wide shots."
When I was offered the chance to return to the Palace in 2017 and make a new book of its splendid interiors, I jumped at it, feeling like I was returning to a magical treasure cave from a childhood dream. I was determined to bring out the beauty and glamour of the rooms in my photographs, which often get lost now with artificially-lit, wide shots. I insisted on turning off every lamp and using only daylight, with its wonderfully moody shadows, and cropped the views to give a more intimate, tactile feeling.
The extraordinary treasures displayed in the rooms – gilt-bronze candelabra and clocks, porcelain, Japanese lacquer – all these I have tried to make heroic with almost life-size detail shots. To these I have added images of the slightly frayed grandeur of worn silk damask upholstery on gilt chairs that are sat on every day, unlike the pristinely restored, unused pieces you see in French palace museums. For Buckingham Palace is certainly no museum, but a working palace, in constant use by the royal family.
The State Apartments are open to the public every summer, but the Chinese rooms are not, and neither is the Royal Closet, a small room (by palace standards) in which the royal family assemble before state occasions. From this hidden chamber they emerge as if by magic through a very elaborate jib door on which are mounted not only a vast mirror in a carved and gilded frame but also a heavy cabinet mounted with Pietra Dura panels by Martin Carlin in Paris, 1780, on which stands a wartime Christmas present for Queen Mary, 1943: a pair of candelabra by Pierre Gouthière.
The book has a short history of the building of Buckingham Palace, and of its decoration and contents, but really it is a picture book, rather Cabana-style, a patchwork of images attempting to capture its unique atmosphere.
All images by Ashley Hicks, from the book Buckingham Palace: The Interiors, published by Rizzoli and The Royal Collection Trust. Available now via Cabana Bookshop.
Discover striking photography and thoughtful prose from the world’s most atmospheric interiors #worldofcabana