Growing up in the Royal household in England isn’t an easy matter. Saying one’s life can be a bit of a fishbowl, separated from the rest of the world, is putting it lightly. Queen Elizabeth’s children were no exception. As the world watched, Prince Charles’ spotlight seemed doomed to dim on side stage as his mother (now in her 90’s) wears the Crown for what seems an eternity.
Yet, from this secluded realm, the Prince has spent most of his youth, and now adult life, observing the outside world in detail. He has absorbed its beauty and sought to capture it in painting.
“Every since he was a small boy Prince Charles has taken an interest in his surroundings, and has developed his powers of observation to the point where painting became a necessary and vital expression of that interest.”
—Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother
Prince Charles eventually developed a distinctive style all his own. His watercolours are provocative and moody. He seeks to capture the atmosphere of the places that move his spirit. Favorite landscapes, like those at his family home of Balmoral in Scotland and of its rustic and temporal setting; to those bucolic landscapes of the English countryside, as well as his impressions from his travels abroad, find their way to the pages of his sketchbook. His simple brush strokes attempt to express the cold damp atmosphere of Scotland, or set in place a moment in the sun-washed hills of Tuscany.
In his book, HRH Prince of Wales Watercolours, chapters are broken into four parts: English Scenes; Impressions of Scotland; Views of Italy, France and Spain; and Images from further afield. Each image is accompanied by a detailed explanation of his impression of the scene, the history of the place, the difficulty of task, or challenge of the weather; or, most importantly, why the painting, or the place, has meaning to the Prince.
Generally, small and always simply stated, his paintings of Scotland may capture a rainstorm sweeping over a mountain scene, or in England, the fading light upon a pasture; his observations seek rare moments or impressions of the landscape – as though capturing the changing scenes of a dramatic play.
“I sat with my back against an oak tree, my fingers becoming ever more numb from the cold, but consumed by a sense of impassioned and happy urgency to record the almost ethereal demonstration that was taking place in front of me. This was a moment that I could actually feel the inner appreciation of the beauty of the moment passing like an electric current through the brush in my hand. I was totally absorbed. I was in another world, or another dimension, all sense of time evaporated.”
—HRH The Prince of Wales
Much like Churchill, Charles paints because he loves the challenge of expressing what he sees and feels in the settings in which he finds himself. And, like Churchill, this is a pastime where he finds fulfillment and peace.
It wasn’t until Anna Hunter of Belgravia Gallery saw his watercolours featured in a newspaper article that there was a sense that the paintings had any real value beyond the sentimental. It was her suggestion that if the works were tuned into lithographs that they could be sold to raise money for charitable foundations.
A recent report released shows the Prince of Wales is now one of Britain’s most successful living artists, selling over £2million in lithographs of his watercolours. Money brought in from sales are donated towards the Prince’s charitable interests, primarily The Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. Estimates put the total amount raised by his watercolors since the Royal household began selling them at over £6 million– quite a princely sum for a gentleman’s pastime.