Many of you will not know the city of Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands, but its Fries Museum is currently home to the exhibition Icons: topstukken uit de National Portrait Gallery (or translated: Icons – Masterpieces from the National Portrait Gallery). They were able to borrow many masterpieces from the National Portrait Gallery as it was undergoing renovation.
Icons consists of almost 100 portraits – from Queen Elizabeth I to Audrey Hepburn and Malala Yousafzai. This great diversity in portraits is divided into the themes of power, glory, identity, self-portraits, regeneration and love & loss.
The exhibition opened on 11 September, and I visited on 25 September. I had booked the first timeslot of the day, and I was surprised by the huge number of visitors, who all seemed to rush to the new exhibition. It was soon so hectic that I decided to put on my mask (which at this point was not even mandatory). Luckily, the crowd soon seemed to spread out, but it was still much busier than I had anticipated.
Although not all portraits are of royals, there is still plenty to be enjoyed. At the entrance, you are greeted by a lenticular print on lightbox of Queen Elizabeth II.
Other royal or royally-themed portraits include Nell Gwyn (mistress of King Charles II), Diana, Princess of Wales, Elizabeth Stuart (Queen of Bohemia), Anne Hyde (Duchess of York), Anne of Hanover (Princess Royal and Princess of Orange), Anne, Caroline and Amelia with their brother Frederick, Prince of Wales, Albertine Agnes of Nassau, Queen Mary II, Queen Elizabeth I and King Henry VIII.
Overall, I enjoyed the exhibition. The rooms were set up nicely, though I did not always understand where they were going with the theme. Perhaps this was all explained in the audio tour, which I did not listen to (I never do as this requires a hand that I don’t have if I am taking photos). It’s fantastic to see these grand royal portraits in such close proximity, and I really liked the addition of contemporary art, though with such diversity, you’re bound to not like a few of them.
Do go and see this if you can, if only to stand face to face with the magnificent painting of Queen Elizabeth I. The publication that accompanies the exhibition is also available in English, though it contains 30 fewer pages and fewer images for some reason.
The Icons exhibition will run until 9 January 2022. More information on opening hours, COVID-19 measures and ticket prices can be found here.