Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are associated with a long, long list of historical and cultural events and eras. She gave her name to most of the 19th century. Albert was associated with promoting industrial expositions, rail transportation, science, and a host of other things. They were also a great love story, detailed most recently in the ITV and PBS television program Victoria.
They were also great patrons of the arts, visiting and hosting exhibitions and promoting artistic genres like watercolor painting. Victoria herself painted in watercolor. And the royal couple commissioned numerous watercolor paintings of their family, homes, and special events. Those watercolors have been featured in a current exhibition in Britain and are the subject of the exhibition catalog, Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour, curated and written by Carly Collins.
Collins does far more than assemble a group of watercolors and describe the story behind them. She tells a story, the story of the watercolors collectively, a story that covers the marriage of Victoria and Albert from their marriage in 1840 to Albert’s untimely death in 1861.
The paintings and the narrative text are organized in four groups – home and family; traveling the kingdom; France and Germany; and public spectacle in peace and war. Depicted and described are the people, family events, and major public events that occurred during the 21 years. You see everything from a children’s ball at Buckingham Palace to the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851 and troops being sent off to the Crimean War.
Victoria and Albert commissioned paintings from a considerable number of artists, including Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Caleb Robert Stanley, Joseph Nash, Louis Haghe, William Leighton Leitch, James Robert, Carl Haag, Mary Herbert, Sir John Tennant, and many others. Many of these watercolors, especially those involving the family, were placed in albums that the royal couple would take with them whenever they traveled.
Collier is the assistant curator of Prints and Drawings for the Royal Collection Trust. She also served as curator for the “Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour” exhibition, which has been on view at various locations in the U.S. and is currently at the Poole Museum.
Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour is not only an exhibition catalog. It is also a record of what Victoria and Albert believed to be important during their years of marriage and how they viewed the world.
Top illustration: Prince Arthur, watercolor by Queen Victoria (1853).