Franz Xaver Winterhalter Oil 1843
Today we celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born this day in 1819. Sorry to the folks in Canada and Scotland that celebrated on Monday as a bank holiday. I guess you’ll all be at work today and can’t read this anyway.
Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India was born fifth in line to the crown. Just months before her 18th birthday, her uncle, King William IV, was the last man standing between her and the crown. He swore to her he would stay alive until her 18th birthday so her mother (his sister-in-law) would not be regent. He kept his promise, and died a month after her birthday.
However, even as a queen she needed a chaperone as she wasn’t married. She wasn’t thrilled about her mother living with her. Her mother’s overbearing “advisor” (most likely lover) was unwelcome and powerful, a dangerous combination.
The best remedy to an overbearing mother living with you is to get married. Victoria’s beloved Uncle Leopold (her mother’s brother), King of Belgium, put forth his nephew Prince Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Yep, that was her first cousin.
The Queen had always enjoyed his company and found him handsome and intelligent. They were married in 1840 and had nine children and 32 grandchildren. Theirs was a love affair of the ages.
The Victorian age is generally known for its extreme modesty. This is mostly given to the fact that the Queen was raised in practical seclusion with intense rules set forth by her mother to avoid any scandal to ensure she would be queen. That’s why this painting is so fascinating to me.
This oil painting was only recently unveiled at Buckingham Palace. The Queen commissioned it herself as a gift to her husband, Albert. It was painted in 1843 by renowned royal painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter.
Winterhalter was the court painter of King Louis-Philippe of France, but painted portraits for several royal families around the world. He was in demand all around the globe, including Russia and Mexico. He painted over 120 portraits for the English royal family during Victoria’s reign.
Queen Victoria was 24 when she sat for this painting. It reminds me a bit of those “boudoir” photos that have become popular recently. It’s meant for her husband alone, and it shows a side of her only he should see.
It’s not so much the amount of skin shown, as the off the shoulder costume was quite popular, but other aspects that would have made it quite scandalous (at least to her mother). The necklace rests on her chest, which draws your eyes down the pristine white skin. Of course, she’s completely covered. The hair seems almost carelessly tossed over one shoulder and lands near the necklace as well.
Her look is far off and wistful, longing. She is not a queen in this portrait. She is a young wife.
Queen Victoria reigned for over 63 1/2 years before her death at age 81. Until this year when her great-great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her, she was the longest reigning monarch in history. She is most commonly known for her long mourning period after the death of her husband. She continued to wear black from the time of his death in 1861 until her own death in 1901. She was buried in white, by her own request.
Happy Birthday, Your Majesty.