Royal Collection turns to Hollywood for illusion exhibition in Palace ballroom

A Hollywood-based production company has had a hand in the Buckingham Palace summer opening this year.

Royal Collection curators turned to a special effects team in LA to recreate the illusion of a 19th-century ball in the palace ballroom.

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Using a Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost, and with projections around the room, visitors will be able to imagine the ballroom as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would have known it.

Images of eight dancers will appear beyond a screen in the vast room, dancing a waltz to the sounds of La Traviata, on a three-minute loop.

Co-curator Dr Amanda Foreman told PA: “We’ve entered a whole new age of being able to explore and experience history and that’s a huge part of what’s going on with this exhibition.”

She added: “I wanted to be able to bring in modern technology to show what the original ballroom looked like and to make it an immersive experience.”

The US-based company, which the Royal Collection said cannot be named in line with royal household policy, has expertise in virtual reality, and provides media production for television, movies and VR.

Auditions were held in LA, with more than 500 dancers trying out for the roles at the royal casting session, with the chosen ones being filmed in front of a green screen in California.

Preparations for the ballroom projection
Preparations for the ballroom projection

Hollywood wardrobe rental houses were scoured for historically accurate ball gowns.

But only three were found so an additional white hooped dress was custom made, while the men’s red and navy jackets were embellished by the Royal Collection Trust with real military insignia.

The ball being recreated was staged at the palace to mark the end of the Crimean War in 1856.

The current continental Edwardian style white and gold walls of the ballroom, introduced after Queen Victoria’s death by her son Edward VII, will also be transformed with projections of the vibrant reds and golds and impressive murals originally installed by Prince Albert.


Dr Foreman said: “What’s going to strike anybody that walks in is the colour, the deep vibrant colours.

“There was so much colour, you think of Victorian interiors as being dark, but this was bright.”

The Ballroom, Buckingham Palace in 1856
The Ballroom, Buckingham Palace in 1856

She added: “It had a playfulness. Prince Albert loved the renaissance so there’s a lot of renaissance-inspired decoration and he also loved the Middle Ages so there’s a medieval gothic nature to it

“It felt alive and that is what you will see.”

The ball was attended by 2,000 people and the 10 gilded candelabra burned a total of 430 candles.

The exhibition tells the story of how Victoria turned Buckingham Palace from an unloved royal residence into the centre of social, cultural and official life.

She renovated the unused palace, adding the famous balcony and the grand ballroom.

The special display is being held to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth.

Victoria was born on May 24 1819, and is the nation’s second-longest reigning monarch, after being overtaken by Elizabeth II in 2015.

The exhibition – Queen Victoria’s Palace – can be viewed during the summer opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, from July 20 to September 29 2019.