VICTORIA AND ALBERT – ART AND LOVE

Eight years ago (!?) Victoria and I were fortunate enough to attend the Victoria & Albert exhibition in London. Over the years, we have traveled the length and breadth of England together and have had some fabulous experiences, but the one experience we always come back to is this one. It stands alone. In fact, we recently reminisced about it again when we were in England in May, so we’ve decided to run this post, which originally ran in 2010, again for anyone who missed it then.

One of the highlights of the London leg of our tour, and one of the visits Victoria and I had been most looking forward to, was the Victoria and Albert: Art and Love Exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. I knew it was going to be fabulous, but had no idea how deeply it would affect me.

Upon going through the security checkpoint, we ascended the stone steps to the first gallery in the Exhibition. As we entered, the first thing Victoria and I saw was the portrait below hanging on the far wall.

Winterhalter’s now iconic painting was intended to hang at the family retreat of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. It was exhibited in 1847 at St James’s Palace, where it was seen by 100,000 people. However, the picture was not well received by some of the Press, who criticised its ”sensuous and fleshy” character. Having seen this image over and over in various books, and having a framed print of it in my office, it was breathtaking to realize that we were now gazing upon the original. Once I’d gotten over the initial shock, I looked around the rest of the room, only to find myself being presented with almost every well known, and loved, portrait of the Royal Family done by Winterhalter – in the flesh, so to speak. And all in the same room.  Good thing there were benches provided, as I had to sit down and collect myself.
This gorgeous portrait, commissioned by Queen Victoria and given to Prince Albert on his birthday, 26 August 1843, hung on an adjoining wall. Victoria was just 24 when Winterhalter completed the painting, which was later described as her husband Albert’s “favourite picture.” It’s always been one of my favorites, too, most especially because it breaks the “Victorian” mould by showing Victoria as she was with Albert – a passionate, sensuous woman deeply in love with her Prince.
Queen Victoria and her cousin the Duchess of Neomurs 1852

The painting above captures Queen Victoria with her cousin,Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld-Kohary, who was the daughter of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Princess Antonie de Kohary. Her father was the second son of Francis Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf. She married Louis d’Orléans, Duc de Nemours, on 27 April 1840, in Saint-Cloud. Depicted with her hair down and shoulder exposed, Winterhalter again captured Victoria, the young woman, rather than Victoria, the Queen.  She looks relaxed and quite girl-ish as she sits companionably with and holds her cousin’s hand.
The two full length portraits above were commissioned from Winterhalter in 1842.
The First of May: The Duke of Wellington Presenting a Casket on Prince Arthur’s Birthday
Yes, this painting above was also hanging in the same room. I got as close as possible to the canvas and studied the way Winterhalter had painted the fabrics, the skin tones. Truly amazing.

Also in the same gallery were the two portraits below by Edwin Landseer –

Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos 1841
Eos, A Favorite Greyhound, the Property of H.R.H. Prince Albert. 1841

Queen Victoria commissioned this portait of Eos, Prince Albert’s greyhound, about which I’ve posted before. Prince Albert got Eos when he was fourteen years old and brought her with him when he moved to England. This is another print that I’ve had framed in my office for years. The subject matter, the composition and Landseer’s use of four colors – white, black, red and gold – make this a striking portrait that’s always appealed to me. Eos herself lived a fascinating life, about which I’ll be posting soon. I hadn’t realized just how large the original painting is – 111.8 x 142.9 cm. or about 4 x 5 feet. Another bench was well placed directly before this portrait and I sat gazing at it for sometime. Eventually, I did rouse myself and went to see the rest of the rooms in the Exhibition but, truly, my mind and my heart remained in the first Gallery, to which I returned after a decent interval, telling Vicky she’d find me there whenever she was ready to go.

There were so many highlights on our trip, but I’ll always be grateful for our visit to Art and Love, which gave us the opportunity to see so many of these paintings hanging beside each other. No doubt it will be a long time before that occurs again and I will always remember the special meaning that day had for both Victoria and myself.

Victoria H. chiming in here with a few more favorites from the exhibition. The catalogue says one of these apple blossom brooches was the first gift Albert sent to his fiance. In later years he added to the collection, including more gold, porcelain and enamel brooches and a wreath for the hair. Victoria always wore them on her wedding anniversary.
This piano of gilded, painted and varnished mahogany and other materials dates from 1856. Both Victoria and Albert played, often performing duets for themselves which Albert had written. The grand piano was designed to be a showpiece in the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. One of the most prominent persons to play it was the composer Felix Mendelssohn, who was a friend of the royal couple.
A throne of carved ivory with gold and gemstone decorations was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, presented to Queen Victoria by the Maharaja of Travancore.  In 1876, when she became Empress of India, she was pictured sitting on this throne.  The detail is amazing.  One of the guards told us that it needed to be cleaned recently and when it was being disassembled, the curators of the Royal Collection found that it was cleverly constructed to fold up entirely flat.  Made it much easier to ship from India, for sure.
Landseer painted Victoria and Albert in their outfits for the first costume ball they held in 1842. The Buckingham Palace Throne Room was decorated with gothic tenting to delight the 2,000+ guests. Victoria is dressed as Queen Philippa of Hainault, consort of Edward III, portrayed here by Albert. The catalogue says these costumes were designed to give maximum employment to the silk weavers of Spitalfields.
Queen Victoria commissioned marble copies of her children’s forearms and feet. The carvings were based on a plaster cast made from moulds taken while the child slept. This is the hand of Victoria, Princess Royal.
We could go on almost forever about ths fascinating exhibit, but I will close with something unexpected. Neither Victoria nor Albert had a large sum of money to spend on gifts for each other. About 2,000 pounds each per year, which is not peanuts, but neither would a comparable amount in today’s values buy a Van Gogh or Monet.  So they shopped and chose very carefully, often commissioning gifts for each other based on their individual or mutual interests.  Sometimes Albert gave Victoria a song he had written and she gifted him with watercolours of their homes, favorite places and the children.
When one sees how devoted they were to each other and how they enjoyed their family life, it is easier to understand Victoria’s intense sorrow and long, long period of mourning for Albert when he died at the relatively young age of 42, leaving her a widow for 40 years until her own death in 1901.
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Interested in all things Victorian? Consider joining us on the Queen Victoria Tour as we explore Her Majesty’s life, homes and long reign.

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: MUDLARKING ON THE RIVER THAMES

Since there has been so much interest in my recent mudlarking adventures with my pal, author Sue Ellen Welfonder this past September, I thought I’d re-run my very first post on the subject, originally published July 1, 2010:

Many, many (many) years ago, when I first began doing research into London history, I was intrigued to learn about the Mudlarks of London, people from the poorer classes, typically children and the elderly, who scavenged along the banks of the River Thames at low tide looking for anything remotely valuable – clothing, coal, coins, pottery, items that had fallen off of ships and barges, etc etc. – that they could turn around and sell to the rag and bone man in order to earn enough for a meal. Mudlarking was considered to be lowest rung on the scavenger’s ladder, so it was with great surprise, and a lot of pleasure, that I found myself actually mudlarking during my jaunt in London.

Having roamed the streets and gardens of London proper and venturing as far north as Hampstead and as far west as Windsor, my daughter, Brooke, and I turned our attention one day to the area of London south of the River – to Southwark, that once desperate area known for being the den of drunken sailors, thieves, prostitutes, cut throats and the Clink Prison – now a really tacky tourist trap.

As we were walking along the River on the Queen’s Walk, a pedestrian promenade located on the South  Bank of the River between Lambeth Bridge and Tower Bridge, we came upon stone steps leading down to the River. The tide was out, exposing what appeared to be a rocky beach of sorts.  We made our way down and, uncertain as to whether or not we were actually allowed down there, tentatively began to walk towards the shore.

You can see the usual high water mark from the algae line in the photo above. I stood there gazing at this rare view of the River with it’s beach exposed, recalling all I’d read about the long ago mudlarks. As I looked at St. Paul’s Cathedral on the distant shoreline, my heart skipped a beat as I realized that this was one of those moments I’d remember always – to be able to, for a moment, at a distance of centuries – walk in the mudlark’s shoes, to see the River as they’d seen it, to feel, as they must have done, as though I were somewhere I shouldn’t be, doing something I shouldn’t be doing, but compelled to carry on.
As I was telling Brooke the tale of the mudlarks, I glanced down at the sand and saw a shard of blue and white pottery. Holding it up, I showed Brooke. Where had it come from, she asked. Who knows, said I (with infinite motherly wisdom). Honestly, it could have washed up last week or last century. Or two centuries ago. Before I knew it, I’d spied another shard, and another. I was off, while my daughter rolled her eyes, telling me that she couldn’t believe I was actually garbage picking on the beach. Treasure hunting, I said, correcting her. I told her that many valuable objects were known to have washed up from the Thames – Medieval stuff,  Restoration gee gaws, Georgian trash, even. As if to prove my point, at that moment I found a bone. Really. A dried out animal bone. Maybe the leg bone of a dog. Fascinated, Brooke stepped in for a closer look. Is it new? she asked. Nah, I replied sagely, look, the bone and the marrow are all dried out. What’s it from? she asked. Some small animal, like a dog, I said as I gingerly let the bone fall to the sand. Of course, had the bone come complete with a tag that read “Authentic Leg Bone of a Regency Era Dog” I would have kept it, but the bone had done it’s trick – now Brooke had gotten scavenger fever. For about an hour we combed the beach until I noted (again with great wisdom) that the tide was beginning to turn and come back in. By this time, I’d amassed a bagful of blue and white pottery shards, one of them complete with the full figure of a robed Oriental person. I will put these shards in a bowl at home, with a note beneath them that reads “Found on banks of Thames River June 2010” and will occasionally sift through each one and remember with great fondness the day I became a mudlark. Here
‘s a photo of the sign above the bridge we were scavenging beneath –

Leaving the sand and returning to the streets of Southwark, Brooke and I came upon a pub called . . . The Mudlark (4 Montague Close, Southwark, London SE1 9DA). I later found out that today there’s a London-based Society of Thames Mudlarks, who are granted a special license by the Port of London to excavate the beach and who must turn over finds of historic importance to the Museum of London, whose holdings include the Cheapside Hoard, an eye-popping collection of 400 pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry, dating back to between 1560 and 1630. The hoard was probably buried in the early 17th century and discovered in 1912, by workmen digging in a cellar in the neighborhood of Cheapside. Which is why there are now lots of regulations surrounding mudlarking about which Brooke and I were blissfully unaware.

It seems that journalist Nick Curtis took to the sand by the Thames himself and wrote about his own mudlarking adventure in the London Evening Standard. Here’s a portion of his article:

My day begins with the early morning low tide, in the mud of the foreshore near Custom House on the north bank near the Tower of London. Here, with commuters trudging above, I meet Ian Smith, a leading member of London’s loose community of mudlarks. Ian deals in antiques but he’s been combing the banks of the Thames for fun since the 1970s. When we meet, he’s hip deep in a muddy hole.

Anyone can wander down to the foreshore and pick up objects from the surface, but you need a licence from the Port of London Authority to dig or to sift. “Treasure” is the property of the Crown, although, as Ian says, no one would ever deliberately conceal valuables on a silty tidal foreshore. Plus, things don’t wash up from the river, they wash out from the land. Finds of historic interest are shown to the Port Antiquities Scheme’s finds liaison officer and archaeologist Kate Sumnall and, ideally, donated or sold to the collection of the Museum of London, where she works. Ian once found a hoard of counterfeit George II coins, and has donated several exquisite medieval pewter badges — lucky charms or pilgrims’ tokens — to the museum.

Even at first glance, there is tons of stuff on the shore. Victorian spikes, nails and barrel hoops, huge oyster shells and blackened animal bones and teeth. Once I’ve got my eye in, I also spot hundreds of clay pipe fragments. The smallest are the oldest, and were given away free in the 16th century with a tiny amount of the new and expensive import, tobacco. After just over an hour I’ve also found an ornate key, a stamped lead token, a pewter button and an iron flint striker for kindling fires.

Most of these are probably 17th or 18th century, but fragments of stoneware Bellarmine jars showing a bearded face — supposedly mocking an abstinent cardinal — might be from the 13th century. I’d love to search longer but time, and the Thames tide, wait for no mudlark.

Speaking of tides, Brooke and I stumbled upon the stairs at low tide, but if you want to plan your day around mudlarking, here’s a link to the Thames Tides Table.

WHAT WE SAW IN BRUSSELS IN JUNE, 2010

Victoria here, telling you about how Kristine and I began our visit to the Battlefield of Waterloo in June 2010. We took the Eurostar from London to Brussels, an easy trip. After we checked into the Hotel Bedford (note very British name), our bus took us to Evere Cemetery, where we walked to the British Waterloo Monument, a huge memorial set atop a crypt.

It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1870, said to be the “first to honor the dead of a campaign, as opposed to the many memorials that commemorate a victory.”  Seventeen officers remains are buried here. It was dedicated in 1890.
Col. Sir William Howe de Lancey  and Lt. Col. the Hon Sir Alexander Gordon, ADC to the Duke of Wellington, are the highest ranking men buried here.
The pictures above and below were taken in the fall, with fewer leafy trees in the way.
Above you can see the door leading into the crypt. This was reached via very steep steps leading down from the lawn surrounding the monument.
The monument was designed by Belgian sculptor Count J. De Lalaing, whose talent is obvious in the life-like representations of the lions guarding the tombs and the way the fabric seems to flow as it drapes the tomb.
The inscription reads: “In memory of the British officers non-commissioned officers and men who fell during the Waterloo Campaign in 1815 and whose remains were transferred to this cemetery in 1889. This monument is erected by Her Britannic Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India, and by their countrymen on a site generously presented by the City of Brussels.” 
In 1815, this park in the upper town in Brussels would have been full of British and Allied soldiers. In fact, it is the very park through which the diarist Creevey used to pursue the Duke of Wellington in hopes of gaining some news of the expected battle. Time and again, the Duke confounded Creevey with his nonchalance about upcoming events and his apparently carefree attitude, prompting Creevey to write that he thought the Duke must be either mad or drunk. It never occurred to Creevey that the Duke wouldn’t dare tell him anything, as Creevey was well kno
wn to be a gossip who simply couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
A few years later, in 1830, some of the fighting for Belgium’s  independence from the Netherlands took place here in this lovely park.
Above is what we saw of the Duke of Wellington’s Headquarters in Brussells which was undergoing renovations during our visit. We couldn’t get a clue as to what the building looked like — unless it was a twin of the building on the left.
The two above photos above show the City Hall in the Grand Place in Brussels. Below is an image from the web which show’s the building’s location within the Plaza.
The entire Grand Place is surrounded by elegant buildings and filled with strollers and tourists rubber-necking at their baroque splendor.

Although we visited the site of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, it now contains an ordinary office building and I didn’t even bother to take a picture. The painting above hangs at Goodwood House, country home of the Dukes of Richmond.

 Unfortunately, the modern world has obscured many of the features of the city from the 18th and early 19th centuries, but we were certainly thrilled to have stood in these places and to cast our minds’ eye back to what it must have been like in 1815.

Our Time With the Duke of Wellington

As I mentioned in a previous post, I purchased a rather large hand colored engraving of the Duke of Wellington at Storey’s in London and had it shipped home. A bit later, Victoria found a smaller version of the exact same print at Gray’s Antiques Market, which enabled us from then on to complete the rest of our Wellington tour with Wellington.

I must say, Victoria and I found the Duke to be everything we’d ever imagined – and more.

After first meeting up with him, the Duke took Victoria, Brooke and myself for a drink at The Golden Lion pub, St. James’s. Who knew he was such a two fisted drinker!? And the stories he told us . . . he is funny. There was one anecdote the Duke told us about Prinny that involved a dwarf and a footman. That Prinny – what a card! I’d relate the story to you here, but Victoria feels it’s a bit too racy for public consumption.
Afterwards, the Duke took us to dinner on St. James’s Street, at an upscale venue called  Just St. James. Of course, we were given a window table with views over the Street when the hostess realized that we were with the Duke of Wellington. However, on the way down the Street towards the restaurant we had passed a venerable building with a uniformed doorman out front. Victoria stopped before him and asked, “What is this building?” Well, honest to Betsy, the man refused to answer. He just looked at us with the tiniest of smiles and kept mum.

Then, Victoria asked, “It’s Boodle’s Club, isn’t it?”
Reluctantly, the man answered, “Yes, madam, it is.”
“Ha! I knew it,” said Victoria, taking the smallest step closer to the man. “Can we come in?”
“Certainly not!”
“Well,” Victoria allowed, “it was worth a shot.”
Of course, we could have pulled out the Duke of Wellington and gained admittance, but we decided to keep him in our back pocket, so to speak.
His Grace insisted upon we ladies ordering dessert and, though we demured, we did eventually order a gorgeous cheese plate and fresh English strawberries and cream. And an Irish coffee. And a glass of port.
The Duke also escorted us to many of the lovely garden squares we visited, and to the Lansdowne Club for cocktails.
We made a visit to Horse Guards, where the Duke was pleased to find that everything was still ship shape and Bristol fashion. And from there we went to the Grenadier Pub, where we three hoisted a few pints.
We asked the Duke about the mounting block outside the pub, purported to have been his. “Rubbish!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never needed the aid of a mounting block to mount my horse and still less a paltry sort of mounting block like that one!”
 
His Grace grew a tad sentimental at seeing Windsor again, what with it’s connections to Queen Victoria. When we asked the Duke if he also remembered George IV with fondness, he replied, “Not so much.”
Though he was the most charming of companions, I must say the Duke was chomping at the bit to get back to his old stomping grounds in Brussels.

The Duke (with description and price tag intact) arrives in Brussels.
The Duke visits the British Monument to those who fell at Waterloo at a cemetary in Brussels. The poor man . . . . it was a very touching moment.
The Duke was disappointed that the building that had been the site of his Brussels Headquarters was being  refaced. Progress, he sighed philosophically,  marches on.
The Duke with two of his fans. On the right is Jeremy Black author of many history books including this one below:
We first visited the French encampment . . .
where the Duke was not amused.
Finally . . . . we and the Duke reached Waterloo and the first thing we did was . . .

to eat lunch. Oh, and have a drink. Thus fortified, we headed for the Battlefield,
where the Duke spent some time checking out the artillery.
Here we are near the site of the Duke’s greatest victory.
Even in the nastiest weather, the Duke prevailed.
And was pleased to see that his troops were still capable of pitching a demmed fine tent.
And so our time with the Duke came to an end. Victoria and I will always look back with fondness on our tour with the Duke of Wellington, the sites we visited and the many good times we shared. Having completed many campaigns in his time, the Duke was a real trooper where travel was concerned and planned our outings with military precision. Not to mention the fact that, as a gentleman, he always insisted on picking up the tab. You’ve got to love it.