The Queen's Gallery is hosting the first ever exhibition to focus on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's shared enthusiasm for art. There are more than 400 items on display from the Royal Collection including this portrait of Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter and commissioned by her as a secret birthday present for Albert and given to him on his birthday 26th August 1843. She looks quite different to the way we always think of her - hair down in a Rapunzel fashion and almost seductive?
This portrait of Albert was done by Charles Brocky and again, commissioned by Victoria, in 1841. These are the two portraits used on the brochures and advertising posters for the current exhibition.
This painting 'Florinda' by Winterhalter was given by Victoria to Albert again, as a birthday present in 1852. It depicts the beautiful Spanish maiden Florinda and her companions preparing to bathe in the grounds of her castle in Toledo. They are unaware that King Rodrigo is watching them secretly from the bushes (left towards top of painting). The 16th century ballad 'La Cava' tells how Rodrigo's subsequent seduction of Florinda ultimately led to the Arab invasion of Spain. The painting apparently hung between Victoria and Albert's personal writing desks in the sitting room of their house on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House. I love it and it shows Victoria's appreciation of the nude in art, again at odds with our usual image of her in tightly laced up Victorian corseted clothing and as a bit of a curmudgeonly prude.
This photo of the Queen with Prince Albert was taken by Roger Fenton - the couple are in court dress, having just attended a 'Drawingroom' - an occasion at St. James's Palace where people were presented to the Queen.
This dress of silk, lace, gold braid and seed pearls was designed for Victoria by Eugene Lami and is thought to be the most glamorous of the surviving clothes made for her. It was for the Stuart Ball in 1851 and inspired by the Court of Charles II. The couple were apparently fond of costume balls and hosted and attended many. In the coronation year of 1838 she attended the theatre or opera 36 times and gave a whole series of balls at Buckingham Palace, nine of which featured Johann Strauss the elder and his orchestra! By the time she wore this dress, she had already had seven of her nine children....look at the size of the waist!
I learned so much I didn't know and saw a whole new side to Victoria...it has definitely re-awakened my interest in her and the elements of her character which maybe became suffocated by the overwhelming grief which overtook her when her beloved Albert succumbed to typhoid fever at the tender age of 42 on 14th December 1861 at Windsor Castle. I thought I might not bother to go and see this - it looked a bit 'same old, same old' but I'm really glad I did. Go if you get the chance and if not, have a look at it in more detail at http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/.