Windsor Castle unveils WWII pantomime paintings

Windsor Castle reopened its doors to visitors yesterday, and has a special treat in store: Second World War ‘pantomime portraits’ which haven’t been seen for nearly twenty years.

Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret took part in a series of pantomimes in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle, as they spent the height of WWII there, unbeknownst to the public.

Karen Roe

Windsor Castle reopened yesterday, with a special new set of art to see (Karen Roe)

They performed to raise money for the Royal Household Wool Fund, which supplied yarn to make comforters for soldiers fighting at the Front.

At the beginning of the war, a series of portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence that usually line the walls of the Waterloo Chamber were removed from their frames for safe keeping. The portraits were commissioned by George IV to depict the leaders of Europe, whose forces had defeated Napoleon in 1815.

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To make these blank spaces more festive, 16 ‘pantomime pictures’ were commissioned to cover the bare walls. Teenage evacuee and part-time art student Claude Whatham was asked to recreate fairy-tale characters on rolls of wallpaper.

He shared a temporary painting studio in the Garter Throne Room with Sir Gerald Kelly, who was working on King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation portraits.

The Pantomime Portraits in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle were last publicly seen after the fire in 1992 (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020)

After the war, the portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence were returned to the Waterloo Chamber, and the pantomime pictures remained hidden beneath them. They have been revealed just once since the war, following the fire of 1992.

During the recent closure a Windsor due to the pandemic, the opportunity was taken to clean various aspects of the castle and its artefacts. The portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence were removed and the newly-revealed pantomime pictures can be seen by visitors to Windsor Castle.

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Royal Collection Trust: Windsor Castle, Holyroodhouse and more to reopen doors

Across the other Royal Collection Trust sites reopening, you can see the ‘George IV: Art & Spectacle’ exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, which features George IV’s diadem.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal galleries and the Royal Mews are now welcoming visitors. Pre-booking your visit is essential – go here.

The Diamond Diadem, designed for George IV’s coronation, is set with 1,333 diamonds. Her Majesty The Queen wears the circlet to and from the State Opening of Parliament. The display case is dusted ahead of the reopening of the exhibition George IV: Art & Spectacle at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020)

The Queen wearing the George IV diadem.

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