VICTORIA & ALBERT: ART AND LOVE

Barbara Askew

Wednesday 18th September 2019

 

                      

This lecture celebrates the 200th anniversary of the births of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who were first cousins and born just three months apart in 1819. Their shared enthusiasm for art and music endured through the twenty-two years of their marriage and they demonstrated their love through the works of art and jewellery they gave each other for birthdays, Christmases and anniversaries. Victoria and Albert understood and appreciated sculpture more than any of their predecessors since Charles I. They furnished and extended Buckingham palace and commissioned two private residences, Balmoral Castle and Osborne House, which is the single most important example of their shared tastes. Theirs was a partnership of patronage by a monarch and her consort which is unique in the history of the British monarchy.

Barbara Askew

Barbara grew up in Eton with Windsor Castle as part of her daily view. She graduated with an honours degree in History and taught History for 15 years before qualifying as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide. She is a lecturer, examiner and course director on Blue Badge training courses and an acknowledged expert on royalty and on Windsor Castle. She has been the Site Liaison Representative at Windsor Castle for the Blue Badge Guides’ Associations since 1990. She is a rota guide in the British Museum, the Houses of Parliament and the Albert memorial and conducts historically-themed walking tours in Windsor for Windsor Festival and further education groups.

Review

Review of Victoria and Albert : Art and Love by Ann Marriot

The lecture began with a tune recognisable as Rule Britannia which the lecturer described as the Victoria waltz. In addition to art this royal couple enjoyed theatre and music

As a young man Albert studied history of art in Berlin and toured Italy. These experiences led to his appreciation of early Italian painting.

Victoria’s formative contact with art was through seeing paintings in houses of the aristocracy. However after the eighteenth century grand tour there must have been some really old paintings to be seen.

Throughout the 22 years of their marriage Victoria and Albert gave each other paintings at every point of celebration – birthdays, Christmas and the birth of each of their 7 children. Winterhalter the German painter was frequently commissioned to paint the portrait of one or the other.

Victoria, no prude, had one very seductive Winterhalter painting produced to give Albert. Her shoulders were bare in a lowcut dress and her hair trailed loosely over one shoulder.

Several mythological paintings that she commissioned to give him included female nudes. A critic described them as soft porn intended to encourage Albert in bed. The sovereign absolutely did not share her subjects’ aversion to nudity.

Albert’s ability to collect art was constrained by the government’s meanness. Queen Anne’s husband a couple of hundred years earlier had been granted an annual income of £50,000. Albert was given an income of only £30,000. Fortunately, the early art which he liked was not much in demand so he was able to buy early masterpieces rather cheaply.  He acquired a beautiful Cranach painting, possibly from a relative in Saxe Coburg.

As well as full size paintings they commissioned lovely miniatures of each other and of their children. Victoria particularly liked art she could relate to her own life –pictures of family and places she visited. She owned a nice contemporary view over fields to industrial Manchester.

They were keen on sculpture. We were shown a beautiful bust head and shoulders of Victoria and a nice statue of their son Arthur standing next to a big sword – a reference to his godfather the Duke of Wellington.

The lecture ended with a picture of Victoria and Albert listening to a piano played by Mendelssohn. The lecturer let us hear the same music from a recording of the piece. Albert played an instrument and composed music. Victoria sang and played piano.

The pair were responsible for considerable patronage of the arts over many years and they encouraged their children to put on theatrical tableaux.

An enlightening and highly entertaining lecture from a knowledgeable expert.