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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
-
Patrons of the Arts, Art Collectors and Artists



Report of the lecture given by Oliver Everett on September 26th 2012

We were held spellbound (to quote our Chairman) by the absorbing and humorous lecture we heard from Oliver Everett on the patronage of the Arts by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

We started with a picture of Princess Victoria at the age of two with her mother, the Duchess of Kent. Through the Duchess, they had royal family connections in Germany, Belgium and France, which played a significant part in their artistic activities by bringing them into contact with the leading figures of the art world of their times. They also chose four anniversaries in their lives as events to be marked with gifts of art to one another.

We were taken quickly to a review of selected paintings acquired or commissioned by the royal couple starting with a painting of their wedding in 1840. We then saw a picture painted by Winterhalter, showing her at leisure, hair cascading over her shoulders which are bared to the viewer. This was followed by pictures of social events hosted by the Queen and Prince Albert in Buckingham Palace where there were depictions of sometimes as many as 1,500 to 2,000 guests all in fancy dress with an historical or Indian theme.

Prince Albert had a marked architectural interest. The Prince was very taken with Italian art and we saw pictures of features of the Crystal Palace where an Italian influence in the design and appearance was evident.

Both the Queen and Prince Albert were keen musicians. The Queen was so keen on playing the piano that she had one in every royal residence. In one, there were fifteen pianos, twelve of which were made by the German, Jerard. Prince Albert was shown in one picture playing the organ. In another, he and the Queen were shown playing the piano in her drawing room.

Dr Gruner was appointed artistic adviser to the couple and was instrumental in the acquisition of many of the pictures they collected. Prince Albert was very keen on the works of Raphael. He ended up with over 5,000 works or copies of works by Raphael which he kept in a huge, specially made chest-of-drawers in his study. Winterhalter's picture (8 ft by nearly 6 ft) of Florinda, a favourite wooed by the King of Spain in the eighth century, was painted a the request of the Queen. Lord Leighton submitted a picture to the Royal Academy showing a procession in 1285 of notable historical characters through Florence accompanying the Madonna. This picture was bought by the Queen.

In 1840 Prince Albert brought his favourite dog, called Eos, to England. The dog is pictured in a Lanseer picture commissioned by the Queen for the Prince. Another Lanseer picture, this time with a stag, was acquired by the Prince in 1842. Lanseer also was commissioned by the Queen to paint a picture of a lion tamer and his animals who were putting on a show at Drury Lane. The Queen is said to have seen the show seven times during the six weeks the show lasted.

The Queen was so fond of sculpture that a sculpture corridor was created in Osborne House. Trained by Canova, John Gibson was commissioned to create a number of sculptures for the Queen.

Prince Albert was very interested in design in art. Garrards, the London jewellers, produced a magnificent centrepiece. Under the Prince's influence it was very Italianate in design and he insisted that four dogs including Eos should feature in it. Another centrepiece, the Alhambra Fountain, (4 ft 4 ins high) was commissioned by Prince Albert after the Great Exhibition. Its Moorish designs are based on the Alhambra in Spain.

Herbert Minton was lucky enough to show the Queen around the Great Exhibition. Of course, he took her to see the Minton display which unsurprisingly led to the Queen commissioning a number of pieces. We were shown a picture of one called The Four Seasons which is over 2 ft high. It was also fashionable in Germany to have horn furniture made from the horns of animals. During a visit to Gotha to see the Prince's brother, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the Duke presented a sofa made by stag horns to his brother. A couple of years later the Prince had some chairs made to match.

The Prince played a major part in the design and organisation of the Great Exhibition in 1851. We saw a picture of a water colour by Lami showing the Queen opening the Exhibition. In the Exhibition were a number of tents, one of them being for an Indian display. We saw a water colour by Joseph Nash showing an ivory throne that had been presented to the Queen by the Maharaja of Travencore. The throne was used in the first official picture of the Queen as Empress of India in 1876.

We saw a number of pictures of the Queen's children before turning to a short review of pictures relating to royal residences. The first was Balmoral Castle. The Queen and Prince Albert rented the original castle in 1848 and bought the freehold in 1851. They demolished it in 1853 and what we see today is the rebuilt castle according to the design which was heavily influenced by the Prince. It was completed in 1856 and we were shown some pictures of the interior. The next residence was Osborne House. In 1843 the royal couple decided that they did not like the lack of privacy in the Brighton Pavilion, the former home of George IV. So, they sold it and bought Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. That house too was demolished and Prince Albert designed the building as we see it today. We were shown pictures of some of the rooms including Prince Albert's study. The Queen and the Prince were responsible for alterations to Buckingham Palace including the addition of the balcony in the front. We saw a picture of the altered front with soldiers who had returned from the Crimean War being greeted by the Queen.

The display ended with pictures of some photographs. We were told that photography was invented in 1839 with the first royal photograph being taken of the Prince in 1842. An important photograph of a meeting of Chartists on Kennington Common had subsequently been coloured. The royal children were photographed by Roger Fenton who also brought back a number of photographs from the Crimean War at the instigation of the Prince.

The Queen kept Prince Albert's bedroom exactly as it was when he died in 1861 for the next forty years. After his death the Albert Memorial was built ;using funds from the public, which were so over-subscribed that the balance was enough for the construction of the Albert Hall.

Brian Pistorius


Oliver Everett chats with the Chairman and other members
after his entertaining and informative lecture