Buckingham Palace conjures up Victorian ghosts in new show

Robin MILLARD
The Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper's Ghost was used to recreate a waltz danced at the Crimean Ball of 1856 in the Ballroom of Buckingham Palace (AFP Photo/Victoria Jones)

London (AFP) - The ballroom of Queen Victoria's Buckingham Palace has been brought back to life through Pepper's Ghost: a 19th-century illusion recreated by Hollywood animation whizzkids.

The dancing, music and colour scheme has been revived inside the palace ballroom as part of an exhibition for the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria's birth.

The 1856 ball celebrating the end of the Crimean War has been recreated using a Victorian technique called Pepper's Ghost.

Film is projected upwards and then reflected off a near-invisible glass screen set at 45 degrees, making dancers seem to appear magically in the room.

Scientist John Henry Pepper's trick stunned and terrified people in theatres when it first came out.

The palace's original wallpaper, friezes, windows and ceiling decorations are projected onto the walls to complete the recreation, digitally repainting the now-white walls with the reds, golds, blues and greens of the time.

"It's a melding of 21st-century and 19th-century technology," said curator Amanda Foreman.

"Victoria had been deprived of normal socialisation when young," she explained.

"Dancing helped to make her feel alive. She loved the sensation of it."

- Dancing to feel alive -

Built in 1854, the palace's largest room is now used for state banquets such as that thrown last month for US President Donald Trump, and for conferring honours such as knighthoods.

The central London palace was unoccupied before Victoria moved in on becoming queen in 1837 at the age of 18.

The exhibition shows how Victoria and her husband Prince Albert turned it into the palace of today: the headquarters of the monarchy, a family home and a focal point for national celebrations.

Many of the modern British monarchy's hallmarks started with Victoria at Buckingham Palace, such as the balcony appearances, garden parties and public receptions.

Victoria's throne is displayed in the Throne Room, in front of those of her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip.

"It's low down, because she was tiny," said Foreman.

- Casket of teeth -

Victoria had nine children in 17 years, eight of whom were born in the palace.

The exhibition has a gilt casket of the children's baby teeth, marble casts of her children's arms and legs, and the first shoes worn by her eldest son, the future king Edward VII.

Among the items on show never before seen by the public are Victoria's watercolours of trees in the palace gardens.

Victoria all but left Buckingham Palace after Albert's death in 1861. She reigned for a further 40 years until her own death in 1901.

Queen Elizabeth visited the exhibition on Wednesday.

The palace opens to the public when the royal family retreat to the private Balmoral estate in Scotland for their summer break.

The exhibition, which costs £25 ($31, 28 euros) to enter, runs from Saturday until September 29. More than 500,000 people are expected to visit.