"The Royal Family in 1846" by Franz Winterhalter
Living in Saltaire, I am reminded every day of the vision, skill and confidence of our Victorian forebears. It was an unprecedented era in British history, watched over by a Queen who was only 18 when she was crowned and who ruled for over 60 years. Her reign saw enormous changes - in the way Britain is governed (by a constitutional monarchy), in the rate of industrialisation and in the growth of a huge empire world-wide (on which, it was said, 'the sun never set'). At the heart of it was Victoria and her family. She came to the throne in 1837 and in 1840 she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with whom she had nine children. Theirs was evidently a real love-match and when he died prematurely in 1861, Victoria withdrew from public view and remained in mourning for the rest of her life. She became unpopular because of this, but in the 1880s was persuaded to return to public life. Her Golden and Diamond Jubilees (in 1887 & 1897) were enthusiastically celebrated (in Saltaire as in the rest of the country.)
I have just been to London to visit my daughter and son-in-law and whilst there took the opportunity to visit the exhibition currently in the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. 'Victoria & Albert: Art & Love' celebrates the relationship between Victoria and her beloved husband through the many gifts and works of art that they bought and commissioned for each other. From the kitsch (necklaces made of stag's teeth, a sofa made of stags' antlers and hooves) to the improbable (an exquisitely decorated indoor fountain made of precious metals, enamel and gems), the fascinating (watercolour paintings of key places and events, compiled into albums much as we do with family photos) and the stunningly beautiful, it is a dazzling show. I loved this amazing family portrait by Franz Winterhalter, carefully and subtley composed to show the Queen and her eldest son and heir, Edward, set slightly apart, as the royal line - but placing Prince Albert unmistakably at the centre as the head of the family.