The October meeting of the Stourbridge Historical Society took place on Thursday 18th October at 7.30 p.m. Our President Michael Blamire-Brown welcomed 62 members, 5 visitors and a very popular and familiar speaker, Dr Gillian White. She delivered a talk entitled ‘Queen Victoria. A life in Portraits’. Gillian explained that she would give an insight into the life of Victoria through paintings. Some would be familiar but others less so.
The reputation of monarchy was poor when Victoria was born at 4.15 p.pm on 24th May 1819. The three Hanoverian Georges that preceded her were not highly thought of. Her father died before she was a year old. Victoria’s mother the Duchess of Kent raised her, assisted by Sir John Conroy, to give a perception of pliability, purity and suitability in an attempt to refashion the monarchy. Many carefully constructed portraits commissioned by the Duchess of Kent were to play a vital part in that endeavour.
A charming portrait by Stephen Poyntz Denning a portrait painter and gallery owner showed Victoria aged 4 years old still dressed in mourning for her father. Its construction means that the viewer tends to look up at her thus creating an air of superiority in the young child. Another by her drawing master Richard Westall painted in 1830 when she was 11 years old shows Victoria and her adoring pet terrier. The adoration on the face of the dog gives her an air of worthiness.
Victoria became Queen on 20th June 1838. The new queen commissioned Sir George Hayter to paint her as she was at her coronation. In that year Charles Robert Leslie painted. Queen Victoria receiving the Sacrament at her Coronation. Both paintings capture the majesty of the events. In 1887-1830 Sir Edward. Lanseer painted Queen Victoria in 1837 -1839 on horseback; a portrait that bears a striking resemblance to Van Dyck’s famous portrait of Charles 1. There had long been a vogue for painting monarchs on horseback for the sense of authority and majesty that it conveyed. Another such portrait was Sir Francis Grant’s (1839-1804) painting ‘Queen Victoria Riding Out’.
The next step taken through portrait to create a precise image of Queen Victoria was to convey a successful marriage and perfect family. Sir George Hayter produced a painting of Victoria’s marriage to Albert in 1840. She wore a white wedding dress and had a garland of orange blossom in her hair rather than the more usual tiara. The floral headdress was an indicator of chastity. Victoria’s intense love for Prince Albert is encapsulated in a painting by Franz Xavier Winterhalter entitled The Linked Hands of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Winterhalter also painted a very striking portrait of Victoria which she gave to Prince Albert as a birthday present. It is a very personal portrait; she is shown informally with her hair loose.
The arrival of children allowed Victoria and Albert to promote family values through portraits. Edward Lansdseer produced Windsor Castle in Modern Times which showed their first born playing in the corner of the canvas. In 1846 Winterhalter painted The Royal Family. This was more formal than Landseer’s painting and featured their enlarged family. It depicted Victoria as both sovereign and mother This was a painting was seen by 100,000 people and was hated by the critics partly because it was painted by a foreigner. Another Winterhalter portrait featured Victoria at Osborne House with Prince Arthur. The mood of the painting was Italian and has a sense of the Madonna and child.
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