The Enchanted Palace

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Continuing on the general theme of fairy tales, I had the opportunity to visit the above-named exhibition at Kensington Palace a few weeks ago. The weather was as grey as slate and pouring with rain, so this view of Kensington Palace itself was less than advantageous. The exhibition, however, was stupendous.

The objective was to present the history of seven princesses who’ve lived at the palace in the past. The seven princesses chosen spanned a few centuries, up to and including Princess Diana. The method of presentation was particularly interesting because these stories were told in a fairy tale style, very nicely written, and since they were the tales of ‘real’ people the stories lacked some of the saccharine quality of the modern notion of ‘fairy tale endings’.

Several rooms featured stunning installations which continued the fairy-tale theme. I wish I had pictures of some of these. The Room of Dancing Princesses, for example, displayed two gowns, apparently lost within a blue-lit wood of birch trees in the middle of the night. ‘The Room of the World, the World in a Room’ featured an enormous cabinet well above head-height set with many doors of different sizes, and something different inside each compartment – ranging from contemporary art to antique. ‘The Room of a Sleeping Princess’ plays on the tale of the Princess and the Pea, with a bed piled almost to the ceiling with mattresses – this time to keep a wayward princess indoors.

Another highlight was a central installation in ‘The Room of Royal Secrets’ which interpreted the story of a feral child ‘found in the forests of Hamelin running on all fours by moonlight in 1725’, subsequently turned into the king’s pet. The atmosphere in here was as eerie and interesting as the the Room of Dancing Princesses, but where the one was romantic, this was creepy and a little bit chilling. The installation depicted an imaginative image of the feral child’s lair – ‘a feral child sleeps here sometimes’ – with a neat row of dead, stuffed forest animals lined up like cuddly toys.

According to the website associated with the exhibition, there was a deliberate intention to revive darker tellings of fairy stories, and this is put across beautifully within the Palace. This translation of seven lives across seven different time periods into perfect fairy stories emphasises that there’s more to fairy tales than lullabies for children. And it’s a vivid and enthralling way of presenting facts, too.

www.hrp.org.uk/EnchantedPalace

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