So many Diamond Jubilee exhibitions have concentrated on the Queen and her lifestyle: witness the Royal Collection's dazzling display of royal diamond jewellery, the V&A's exhibition of portraits by Cecil Beaton, and the National Portrait Gallery's The Queen: Art and Image, all of which have been excellently curated, but focus largely on the royal family. How refreshing that the Museum of London should offer At Home with the Queen, a small exhibition offering a people-centred, light-hearted look at public perceptions of the Queen, and the British fascination with memorabilia.
At Home with the Queen began as an online call for photographs of Londoners at home with a piece of royal memorabilia. One might wonder how such an exhibition could be of sufficient depth, but the clever whittling down of entries has made it something quite special. It is, in many senses, a 'live' exhibition: not only are the portraits of living subjects, but public interaction is actively encouraged.
This interaction comes in the form of a wall of postcards, a short paragraph inviting the visitor to write about their memories of the Queen. The Museum's appeal to old and young alike leads inevitably to a mixture of nostalgic, serious and funny contributions, from the lady who, at the age of nine, found herself unexpectedly being presented to the Queen, to the young boy who had bought "a shirt...at the mall [and also] the official Gary Barlow CD". Memorabilia from the Museum's archives (from trinkets commemorating the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria to those celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne) sit in a small display cabinet next to print-outs of some of the exhibition entries.
The dozen giclée prints forming the backbone of this exhibition are large and intensely colourful. The photographic portraits, by John Chase, Richard Stroud and Toria Evans, capture a surprising variety of people, attitudes and memorabilia. Immediately visible is the face of a graceful, elderly woman, who holds the Maundy money given to her by the Queen last year. The event happening to fall on the Queen's birthday, her abiding memory is being able to wish Her Majesty a happy birthday in person. She sits in contrast with the portrait of Isabel, aged four, who enjoys "making William and Kate get married all over again" - William and Kate being plastic figurines from a HappyLand Royal Wedding toy set.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a photograph with softer colours (think violet and mint green to the other pictures' reds and yellows). The subject, Brenda Wilshere, is happy, well-groomed and looks middle-class; above a lace-embroidered tablecloth she holds a biscuit tin, produced for Her Majesty's coronation, and a commemorative plate. The description accompanying the portrait reveals that Brenda was in fact born into a poor family who "preciously purchased" the items she has kept in immaculate condition. It is not the only photograph with a hint of irony: the icy stare of Paul Metcalfe, in his rather formal, man-in-armchair portrait, belies his irreverent sense of humour in purchasing a crown "to provide a bit of next door's sparkle" to his former flat opposite Buckingham Palace. The model Mak Gilchrist stands by her vintage Sex Pistols print of the Queen, whose Silver Jubilee fell in the punk era.
It is the portrait of John Loughrey that is the crowd-pleaser in this exhibition. He is the late Diana, Princess of Wales's biggest fan, an ardent royalist well known for being the only member of public to attend daily the inquiry into Diana's death. As I stand contemplating the photograph, Loughrey himself makes an appearance. In his photograph, he salutes proudly, wearing a Union Jack t-shirt and a Union Jack beanie hat, flanked by two Union Jack flags. Among his memorabilia is a pill-box, which, as he explains, is "unique because when they made it, they forgot to put an 'L' in Elizabeth" (the name EIZABETH is enamelled on the lid). John Chase does well to capture his eccentric character in so direct a way.
The exhibition is small, but it does what it says on the tin, and it does it well. Each person, and each piece of memorabilia, tells a different story; the pictures themselves are composed thoughtfully to reflect the subjects' connections, whether perceived or more tangible. Combined with a visit to the Museum of London's permanent collection, it makes for a great day out. Children will love the bright colours and interaction, whilst adults will surely appreciate the humour with which At Home with the Queen has been stitched together.