The London and Waterloo Tour – Crossing the English Channel

As Victoria and I will soon be crossing the English Channel, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you some of the passages from period letters related to the subject which contain first hand accounts of all the various perils attached to making the crossing, from techy customs agents to foul weather and mal de mer.

In fact, the Crossing on the ferries and packets was often so bad that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu paid five guineas in order to hire a private boat to cross channel, rather than taking the Packet. The following is a passage from a letter to her husband about the journey.

(Calais) July 27 (1739)

I am safely arrived at Calais, and found myself better on ship-board than I have been these six months; not in the least sick, though we had a very high sea, as you may imagine, since we came over in two hours and three-quarters. My servants behaved very well; and Mary not in the least afraid, but said she would be drowned very willingly with my ladyship. They ask me here extravagant prices for chaises, of which there is a great choice, both French and Italian: I have at last bought one for fourteen guineas, of a man whom Mr. Hall recommended to me. My things have been examined and sealed at the custom-house: they took from me a pound of snuff, but did not open my jewel-boxes, which they let pass on my word, being things belonging to my dress. I set out early tomorrow. I am very impatient to hear from you: I could not stay for the post at Dover for fear of losing the tide. I beg you would be so good to order Mr. Kent to pack up my side-saddle, and all the tackling belonging to it, in a box, to be sent with my other things: if (as I hope) I recover my health abroad so much as to ride, I can get none I shall like so well.

From The Berry Papers, Being the Correspondence Hitherto Unpublished of Mary and Agnes Berry

Friday, 16th (April, 1802)

Went on board the ‘Swift;’ sailed from Calais Pier a quarter after eleven: fine day, but the wind fell almost entirely. At seven o’clock in the evening we were within five miles of Dover in a dead calm; got into a Dover boat, were rowed into the harbour, and arrived at the York Hotel at a quarter after eight, having been just nine hours on our passage. (Quelle horror!)

And about a later return passage:

Sunday, 26th (May, 1815)

We arrived at Dover at six o’clock in the evening. Unfortunately, the custom-house officer was in a bad humour; he kept my sac de nuit and dressing-case; and instead of finishing the examination of the trunks, opened them, and threw the contents of one into the other, so as to spoil all within. I complained in vain, and was obliged to borrow night things from the landlady at the inn.

Monday, 27th

The custom-house officer of yesterday evening was still more rude to-day. I think he had been blamed for the manner in which he had treated me, and that made him worse. He kept all my shoes, pieces of worn dresses, and things that were marked, and made me pay for flowers which had been worn, etc. The superior custom-house officer, I well saw, wished to make him behave better, and to return what he had taken, but to no purpose.

The following passages were written by Princess Lieven

Calais, June 3 1822 – I crossed from Dover in two and a half hours, with the most superb weather. Tomorrow, I shall sleep at Lille and, the day after tomorrow, at Brussels.

And

Brighton – January 5, 1823 – I left Paris on the morning of the 3rd, I reached Dover after traveling all night. We had a good crossing; but, as we only embarked at five in the afternoon, it was pitch-dark when we neared the English coast. The packet-boat could not get in, and stayed out at sea. I decided on taking the small boat, much to the disgust of my husband, who does not fancy jaunts of that kind. There was a swell; the night was pitch-black. Getting into the boat was no fun at all; there was no gangway, no rope ladder, nothing; one had to wait for a wave to lift the cockle-shell high enough for one to throw oneself from the deck of the packet-boat into the arms of a waiting sailor. I managed very cleverly. When we got to shore, they had to run the boat aground; that was the worst part, for the waves drove us ashore and then dashed over us, and I was drenched from head to foot. When we reached the inn, the old house-keeper made me drink a glass of brandy and put me to bed; that is the great English remedy, and it did me good.

From the Letters of Lady Louisa Stuart

Versailles, 2nd of Septr. 1834.

I told you I should not write in a hurry, and you will be inclined to say I have kept my word. However here is a large sheet of thin paper, and so now let us see what we can do. We set out on Wednesday, having been, as you know, greatly obliged to your good-humoured sisters for a drive as far as London Bridge the day before. Wednesday was rather rainy, but cleared up towards evening. We slept at Dover, and embarked at seven the following morning; a very calm sea. By following a piece of good advice I had received, sitting still in the carriage, and leaning back with my eyes shut, neither speaking nor moving hand or foot, I escaped giddiness and sickness. Yet Louisa (Bromley), who did the same, was sick, though not usually so, therefore I crowed over her, a triumph I did not expect. The trial was short, for by half past nine we arrived in the road of Calais, but the tide not serving, were forced to go on shore in a boat, and had several hours to wait for the arrival of the carriage, which could not be landed till past three. Then came custom-house and various arrangements, so that the sun was setting before we were fairly off, and we only reached Boulogne, where we found the hotel choke full, and had very bad quarters. That evening three or four pelting thunder-showers compelled us to shut up our landaulet, though it was already very warm; but there ended all reason to complain of the weather (except, indeed, of its extreme heat last week), for from Friday the 12th to the present date it has been uninterrupted sunshine and moonshine, and these last three days we have had some refreshing autumn breezes.

And about her return

There arose a furious gale of wind, which did not abate in the least till Sunday night, so though we reached Calais rather early on Friday, we could not sail before Monday morning, and then had an unpleasant passage in a very rough sea with a contrary wind that made everybody mortally sick. We had seven carriages on board, there were as many in another vessel; in short, Calais was crowded, and all the packets were on that side of the water. We got to land in five hours, at eleven o’clock, but the tide did not serve for our carriage to be disembarked, passed through the custom-house, and repacked, till it was too late to proceed farther. We therefore got up by candle-light a second morning, and as the D
over road is almost all up and down hill, it was near seven on Tuesday evening when we alighted at this door. For all these perils and hardships (mighty great to be sure) I am none the worse, but Louisa caught cold by going to look at the wreck of a poor vessel which was lost off Calais on Saturday, and consequently she is as yet unable to set out for Baginton.

From the Letters of Lady Harcourt

To G. K. S.
Albert Gate, Tuesday, March 10, 1891.

We had an awful storm yesterday, a regular blizzard, and a terrible night in the Channel. One of the good boats, the Victoria, was out all night, not daring to land at either Dover or Calais. One of our young attachés was on board, bringing over despatches, and they say he looked green when he finally did arrive. The trains were snowed up everywhere, even between Folkestone and London, and the passengers nearly frozen and starved. It seems incredible in such a short distance. The young men are generally rather eager to bring over despatches, but I rather think this one won’t try it again, in winter at any rate. I am extraordinarily lucky in my crossings, because probably I am a good sailor. I go backward and forward in all seasons and always have good weather. The Florians have had some wonderful crossings, nine hours between Calais and Dover, both of them tied in their chairs, and the chairs tied to the mast.

And what better way to finish up this or any other piece of writing than with a letter from the Duke of Wellington? Here is a letter written to his niece, Lady Burgeresh, about the plans he’s made for her Channel crossing. Lest you think that Wellington was using his influence to secure special priviliges for his family, it should be known that Priscilla had been in England, quite ill, and was returning in an official capacity to Naples, where her husband was Ambassador.

From the Correspondence of Lady Burgeresh
London, August 6, 1826

Dearest Priscilla,

I am about to leave town, and write you a line to be sent to you to-morrow. Lord FitzRoy (Somerset) will have written you last night that I could not get for you the same vessel which conveyed you to Margate; but the Admiralty have consented to your having the use of another steam vessel, which is used for the purpose of towing, and therefore the accommodation is not quite so good as in that vessel of which you had the use before. Lord FitzRoy is, however, to go to Deptford to see her to-morrow, and if the accommodation should not be sufficient you are to have the use of the Admiralty yacht, a sailing vessel in which the accommodation is excellent, and the above-mentioned steam vessel to tow her, so that your passage is secured to Boulogne or Dieppe as you may think best. I now entreat you not to fix too early a day for your departure, as you cannot detain the vessels at Margate. You must go when they will arrive there. I have now named the 18th. But have said it is possible a later day may be fixed. You had better fix a day on which it will be certain that you can go. Recollect that you was a week too soon the last voyage, and that in this voyage, particularly if you determine to go to Dieppe, you may have some sea. Write to me and direct here. I am going only to Stratfield-Saye, and I will go to you as soon as I shall know whether I am to be Summoned to the Lodge on the King’s birthday, which I understood from the lady that she intended.

God bless you. Remember me most kindly to Emily, and believe me,

Yours most affecy.,
W

Unfortunately, since this post was written, the travel company has made a change to our plans – Kristine and Victoria are now scheduled to take the Eurostar through the tunnel, from London to Brussels. No mal de mer for us, though we know the train has broken down a few times. Instead of a Regency journey lasting days, we should now make it from St. Pancras,  London, to Brussels, Belgium in slightly less than three hours.  Rats . . . . . we were so looking forward to making the crossing in period fashion!

Shades of Mary Anne Clarke!

History does, indeed, repeat itself. The current scandal involving Sarah Ferguson’s attempt to cash in on the Duke of York’s position is eerily reminiscent of the 19th century scandal in which the Duke of York’s mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, sought to line her purse via the sale of army commissions. Wikipedia provides the following background:

Mindful of the poor performance of the British army that he had experienced in Flanders, the Duke of York carried out many significant structural, training and logistical reforms to the British military forces during his service as the army’s commander-in-chief during the early 19th Century. These reforms contributed to Great Britain’s subsequent successes in the wars against Napoleon. In these positive outcomes, culminating in the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke was aided by the military genius of the Duke of Wellington, who eventually would succeed him as commander-in-chief of the army. It should be noted that the Duke resigned for a time as commander-in-chief, on 25 March 1809, as the result of a scandal caused by the activities of his latest mistress, Mary Anne Clarke. Mary Anne Clarke is an ancestor of the writer Daphne du Maurier. Clarke was accused of illicitly selling army commissions under the Duke’s aegis. A select committee was appointed by the British House of Commons to enquire into the matter. The parliament eventually acquitted the Duke of having received bribes by 278 votes to 196. He nevertheless resigned because of the high tally against him. Two years later, on 29 May 1811, after it was revealed that Clarke had received payment from the Duke’s disgraced chief accuser, the Prince Regent reappointed the now exonerated Duke of York as commander-in-chief. The Duke would hold this post for the rest of his life. In addition, the Prince Regent created his brother a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order.

For a more in-depth contemporary look at the scandal, we turn to Captain Gronow, who tells us that after settling in as mistress to the Duke of York . . . . .  Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke was soon reconciled to the thought of being the wife of a prince by the left hand, particularly as she found herself assiduously courted by persons of the highest rank, and more especially by military men. A large house in a fashionable street was taken for her, and an establishment on a magnificent scale gave her an opportunity of surrounding herself with persons of a sphere far beyond anything she could in her younger days have dreamt of; her father having been in an honourable trade, and her husband being only a captain in a marching regiment. The duke, delighted to see his fair friend so well received, constantly honoured her dinner-table with his presence, and willingly gratified any wish that she expressed; and he must have known (and for this he was afterwards highly censured) that her style of living was upon a scale of great expense, and that he himself contributed little towards it. The consequence was that the hospitable lady eventually became embarrassed, and knew not which way to turn to meet her outlay. It was suggested to her that she might obtain from the duke commissions in the army, which she could easily dispose of at a good price. Individuals quickly came forward, ready to purchase anything that came within her grasp, which she extended not only to the army, but, as it afterwards appeared, to the Church; for there were reverend personages who availed themselves of her assistance, and thus obtained patronage, by which they advanced their worldly interests very rapidly.

(Ironically, Sarah Ferguson claims that “financial stress” forced her into her scandalous misstep, as well).

Amongst those who paid great attention to Mrs Mary Anne Clarke was Colonel Wardle, at that time a remarkable member of the House of Commons, and a bold leader of the Radical Opposition. He got intimately acquainted with her, and was so great a personal favourite that it was believed he wormed out all her secret history, of which he availed himself to obtain a fleeting popularity.

The way in which Colonel Wardle first obtained information of the sale of commissions was singular enough. He was paying a clandestine visit to Mrs Clarke, when a carriage with the royal livery drove up to the door, and the gallant officer was compelled to take refuge under the sofa; but instead of the royal duke, there appeared one of his aide-de-camps, who entered into conversation in so mysterious a manner as to excite the attention of the gentleman under the sofa, and led him to believe that the sale of a commission was authorised by the Commander-in-Chief; though it afterwards appeared that it was a private arrangement of the unwelcome visitor. At the Horse-Guards, it had often been suspected that there was a mystery connected with commissions that could not be fathomed; as it frequently happened that the list of promotions agreed on was surreptitiously increased by the addition of new names. This was the crafty handiwork of the accomplished dame; the duke having employed her as his amanuensis, and being accustomed to sign her autograph lists without examination.

Odd that a sofa and a mysterious man also played a part in the current scandal, but we digress:

Having obtained the names of some of the parties who had been fortunate enough, as they imagined, to secure the lady’s favour, he loudly demanded an inquiry in the House of Commons as to the management of the army by the Commander-in-Chief, the Duke of York. The nation and the army were fond of his Royal Highness, and every attempt to screen him was made ; but in vain. The House undertook the task of investigating the conduct of the duke, and witnesses were produced, amongst whom was the fair lady herself, who by no means attempted to screen her imprudent admirer. Her responses to the questions put to her were cleverly and archly given, and the whole mystery of her various intrigues came to light. The duke consequently resigned his place in the Horse-Guards, and at the same time repudiated the beautiful and dangerous cause of his humiliation. The lady, incensed at the desertion of her royal swain,
announced her intention of publishing his love-letters, which were likely to expose the whole of the royal family to ridicule, as they formed the frequent themes of his correspondence. Sir Herbert Taylor was therefore commissioned to enter into a negotiation for the purchase of the letters; this he effected at an enormous price, obtaining a written document at the same time by which Mrs Clarke was subjected to heavy penalties if she, by word or deed, implicated the honour of any of the branches of the royal family. A pension was secured to her, on condition that she should quit England, and reside wherever she chose on the Continent. To all this she consented, and, in the first instance, went to Brussels, where her previous history being scarcely known, she was well received; and she married her daughters without any inquiry as to the fathers to whom she might ascribe them.

Mrs Clarke afterwards settled quietly and comfortably in Paris, receiving occasionally visits from members of the aristocracy who had known her when mingling in a certain circle in London. The Marquis of Londonderry never failed to pay his respects to her, entertaining a very high opinion of her talents. Her manners were exceedingly agreeable, and to the latest day she retained pleasing traces of past beauty. She was lively, sprightly, and full of fun, and indulged in innumerable anecdotes of the members of the royal family of England—some of them much too scandalous to be repeated. She regarded the Duke of York as a big baby, not out of his leading-strings, and the Prince of Wales as an idle sensualist, with just enough of brains to be guided by any laughing, well-bred individual who would listen to stale jokes and impudent ribaldry. Of Queen Charlotte she used to speak with the utmost disrespect, attributing to her a love of domination and a hatred of every one who would not bow down before any idol that she chose to set up; and as being envious of the Princess Caroline and her daughter the Princess Charlotte of Wales, and jealous of their acquiring too much influence over the Prince of Wales. In short, Mary Anne Clarke had been so intimately let into every secret of the life of the royal family that, had she not been tied down, her revelations would have astonished the world, however willing people might have been to believe that they were tinged with scandal and exaggeration.

No doubt members of the present Royal Family are as concerned about the knowledge Sarah Ferguson has about them, and the possibilities for her continuing to use these to her fiscal advantage. And no doubt the Duke of Edinburgh would be pleased to see the Duchess of York removed to Paris at the earliest moment!

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, Part Two

Sir Winston Churchill by Arthur Pan

The most famous name associated with Blenheim in modern times is Winston Spencer Churchill, grandson of the seventh duke. He was born at Blenheim in 1874, son of Randolph Churchill (a second son) and his American wife, Jennie Jerome.

Jennie was staying at Blenheim when she went into labor and the baby arrived, typical of his later impatience, two weeks before his due date. Winston proposed to Clementine Hozier in the Blenheim garden folly known as the Temple of Diana.

Sir Winston and Lady Churchill are buried in the graveyard of St. Martin’s Church in the nearby village of Bladon.

As an archetypical English country house, Blenheim today is a museum of art and historical memorabilia, featuring such attractions as the victory dispatch the first duke wrote to Sarah on a restaurant menu, elaborate tapestries depicting his campaigns, ducal coronation robes, and the memorabilia of three centuries.

The gardens at Blenheim have been redesigned many times and currently reflect a variety of styles from formal, at left, to the rolling hills of Capability Brown’s tastes.

In the long library, there is a chart of the family’s genealogy, a familiar object in most English Stately Homes. However, instead of  just showing the family’s lineage back to William the Conqueror, this Spencer-Churchill (Marlborough) family traces its origins to Charlemagne.

Below, see the long library set up for a wedding.
Blenheim is one of many stately homes which can be rented for a lavish ceremony and reception.

As I mentioned in my first post on Blenheim, it is not a house designed for a family to live in. Wandering through the remarkable but sadly bleak trappings of Blenheim, one is struck by how much the first Duke of Wellington learned from Blenheim’s dominion over the entire Marlborough family. When offered a great Waterloo Palace as a gift from the nation after his victory over Napoleon (much as the first duke of Marlborough had been promised a great estate after his victory at Blenheim), Wellington proceeded cautiously. The Iron Duke knew what a burden Blenheim had been to its owners. What Wellington did, the story of Stratfield Saye, we will save for another blog post.

The Great Hall is 67 feet high with stone carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The arms on the stone arch are those of Queen Anne.  The ceiling,  painted in 1716 by Sir James Thornhill,  shows the Duke of Marlborough kneeling to Britannia.
The door leads into the saloon.

The Saloon is also known as the state dining room and is now used by the family once a year on Christmas Day. The magnificent ceiling was painted by Louis Laguerre. Various nations are represented in wall paintings, whilst the ceiling shows the 1st Duke in victorious progress but stayed by the hand of peace.

Another view of the saloon.

In the Green Writing Room, below, the Blenheim tapestry depicts the first Duke of Marlborough accepting the surrender of the enemy in 1704, the accomplishment for which he was honored with the dukedom and the estate.

                              A detail of the Battle of Blenheim tapestry.

The above tapestry showing Marlborough on the way to the battle hangs in the First State Room.

The Green Drawing Room, Red Drawing room and the Green Writing Room ceilings are the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor and the walls feature beautiful portraits of members of the family.  The tapestries are superb examples of the weaver’s art; ten Victory tapestries grace the walls of the State Rooms.
The Second State Room
The architects of Blenheim designed the house as a monument not as a family home, much to the disapproval of Sarah, first Duchess of Marlborough, who wanted a livable residence.  Continued maintenance of the estate has caused many generations of family to become the slaves of their legacy. The house is vast but the rooms, to me, almost seemed claustrophobic, crowded and anything but comfortable.
Nevertheless, it is worth a visit, even with the steep entrance fees.  But go soon, because it is ever more becoming a theme park. We will write about that in a future post on Blenheim, Part Three. 

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire – Part One

Blenheim Palace is one of England’s most famous buildings, a sprawling edifice of honey-colored stone surrounded by spacious parks. Residence of the Dukes of Marlborough, the palace is located in the village of Woodstock, near Oxford. Despite its beauty and idyllic grounds, I found an air of melancholy permeated the property.

Blenheim Palace was a gift from the British nation and a grateful Queen Anne to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, after his 1704 victory over the forces of Louis XIV. When Anne died before the house was finished, the royal purse closed. The Duke and his descendants have been paying for the Palace ever since. Blenheim was a nightmare to build and is a monstrosity to maintain. Take a look at this statement from the Blenheim education page: “The 11th Duke has devoted his life to the preservation of the Palace. He has had a difficult task of balancing the needs of the modern day visitor with the necessity of maintaining a World Heritage site. He said that ‘Although the Battle of Blenheim was won in 1704 the Battle for Blenheim continues in the unceasing struggle to maintain the structure of the building and to obtain the finance for the future.’”

Sarah, the first duchess, fought with architects John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor from the very beginning. She wanted a comfortable residence. They, after creating the baroque magnificence of Castle Howard, wanted a splendid national monument on the order of Versailles. The subsequent story of Blenheim is an indiscriminate mix of the acquisition and dispersal of great art, the antics of peculiar family members, the real and imagined obligations of the aristocracy, and curiosity of the public.

Though Sarah bore the duke six children, both sons and one daughter did not live to adulthood. The eldest of the three remaining daughters, Henrietta, became the 2nd Duchess of Marlborough in her own right. Sadly, her son did not survive her and the 3rd Duke of Marlborough was the son of her sister, Anne, wife of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland. This is the connection to the Spencer family, ancestors of the late Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.

above, tomb of the Duke and Duchess

and their sons

 


The fourth duke, who succeeded to the title in 1758 at age 19, was actually the first to make Blenheim his family’s principle residence. He found the place cold, forbidding and rundown, never properly completed. He assumed the great honor and burden of rejuvenating its grandeur and surrounding it with an appropriately sublime setting, a park designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. George III, on a visit in 1786, is reported to have said, “We have nothing to equal this!”

Family of the 4th Duke of Marlborough by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Never plump enough in the pocket, the fourth duke spent millions of pounds on the mansion and grounds. By the 1780’s, he was fading into reclusiveness, his obsession with the house nearing insanity. When Admiral Nelson visited in 1802, with Lord and Lady Hamilton, the duke refused to receive them. Upon the fourth duke’s death in 1817, his son succeeded.

George Charles Spencer-Churchill, formerly the Marquis of Blandford, lived an extravagant life as fifth duke, dissolute yet brilliant and eccentric, qualities that seem to run in the family. He revised Brown’s landscape and sold off non-entailed treasures to finance his high living, even charging visitors by the hour to shoot and fish on the property. The fifth duchess, Susan, daughter of the seventh Earl of Galloway, like her predecessors, sank into the same enslavement to the house. After years of near-bankruptcy, the fifth duke died in 1840, his duchess the next year. When the Duke of Wellington and his friend, diarist Harriet Arbuthnot, visited Blenheim in 1824, Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote, “The family of the great General is, however, gone sadly to decay, and are but a disgrace to the illustrious name of Churchill, which they have chosen this moment to resume. The present Duke is overloaded with debt, is very little better than a common swindler and lets everything about Blenheim. People may shoot and fish at so much per hour and it has required all the authority of a Court of Chancery to prevent his cutting down all the trees in the park.”


Thus, the pattern was established, dukes and duchesses sacrificing themselves and their families to a symbolic vision of Blenheim Palace more important than mere humans. Another famous victim was Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the 9th duke in 1895, a social coup for her mother, but a lesser triumph for her father, who provided millions to restore and maintain Blenheim. Consuelo later divorced and eventually achieved happiness as Countess Balsan. Right, the 9th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough with their heir and spare, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1907.

The Red Drawing Room
In a future blog, I will take you on a tour of Blenheim and tell more of the story of how a family has had the lives of generations absolutely dominated by the care and maintenance of a home that is also almost a national monument.  Imagine needing a new roof!

The London and Waterloo Tour – Victoria and Albert: Art in Love at the Queen's Gallery

Victoria and I are looking forward to the Victoria and Albert: Art in Love exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Exhibition features 400 items from The Royal Collection including gifts exchanged by Victoria and Albert such as drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, musical scores and jewellery and encompasses their mutual love of music and art. The display also touches upon Prince Albert’s work on ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in 1851’ as well Queen Victoria in the years after Albert’s death in 1861.

Works by the couple’s favorite artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, are on display, as are photographs taken of the Royal couple. A German painter first recommended to Queen Victoria by Louise, Queen of the Belgians, Winterhalter came to England in 1842 and subsequently worked regularly for the queen and her family over the next two decades. Winterhalter was granted the largest number of royal commissions and produced numerous formal portraits, including the one pictured above, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise for her husband’s 24th birthday. The artist presents the Queen in an intimate pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair half unravelled from its fashionable knot.

Winterhalter (at left) was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. He excelled at painting and drawing as a teen and went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. By the late 1830’s he drew attention as a painter of royal subjects. He traveled and painted in almost every court of Europe until the last few years of his life. Though art critics were never very enthusiastic about his work, his portraits were well executed and conveniently flattering.

Costumes are also displayed in the exhibit, including Queen Victoria’s costume for the 1851 Stuart Ball  designed by French artist Eugène Lami. The French silk gown is rich in lace and brocade.
You can take a really in-depth video tour of the exhibition here and/or visit the Royal Collection website.

Winterhalter’s The First of May 1851, at right,  shows the Duke of Wellington presenting a casket to his one-year-old godson, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who is supported by Queen Victoria. Behind these figures and forming the apex of a pyramidal composition is Prince Albert, half looking over his shoulder towards the Crystal Palace in the left background. Both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert are dressed in the uniform of Field Marshal and wear the Order of the Garter. The painting derives its title from the fact that both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Arthur were born on 1 May, which was also the date of the inauguration of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

 The painting was commissioned by Queen Victoria, but Winterhalter clearly encountered some difficulties in devising an appropriate composition. In the queen’s words, he ‘did not seem to know how to carry it out’ and it was Prince Albert ‘with his wonderful knowledge and taste’ who gave Winterhalter the idea of using a casket, instead of the gold cup the Duke had actually presented to the child. The painting hangs at the Duke’s country home, Stratfield Saye.

Above, Victoria and Albert with their children in 1846, Buckingham Palace