I’m pleased to say that Edinburgh is starting to come to life once again! On the 26th of April- museums, restaurants, and attractions were officially given the go-ahead to start re-opening. And, with that, hope has started to blossom in the fresh, spring air. We were especially happy when we saw that the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse was also re-opening with a new exhibition- Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour.
After touring the exhibition, for me, there were three words that came to mind- love, family, and tradition. These are the themes represented in many of the paintings on display. In a particularly touching anecdote, the exhibition provides Victoria’s personal comments on what she called her “valuable Albums…Containing most beautiful watercolor paintings by the first Artists, and some Amateurs, collected by my beloved Husband & myself, and representing the different places we visited & scenes of our life etc.”.
You see, Victoria and Albert had compiled their favourite watercolour paintings into albums as treasured keepsakes. There is a beautiful facsimile of one of those albums on display that, according to the exhibition, was created in 2019 in the Royal Bindery of Windsor Castle. Victoria treasured her albums greatly and they must have provided solace after Albert’s death as the exhibition points out that they were quite worn from so much use. They were eventually “dismantled and reorganised in the 1930s”. The current exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery provides a look at these paintings, and this article gives a glimpse of some of the highlights of our visit.
Many of the paintings on display provide both a public and private look at Victoria's and Albert's family life. Along with this is the clear significance of the importance of tradition. For example, Albert was born and raised in Germany and brought German traditions with him to Britain when he married Victoria. One of the most famous examples is the tradition of having a tree at Christmas. There is a beautiful painting by James Robert- Queen Victoria’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle (1850) that demonstrates this tradition. Each Christmas, the family would use a Christmas tree as a table centerpiece, and they would exchange gifts.
Albert’s German heritage was important to him, and there are some lovely paintings from Victoria’s and Albert’s visits to his homeland. Albert was born in Bavaria at Schloss Rosenau and they commissioned Douglas Morison in 1845 to do the painting below of Albert’s birthplace.
Albert particularly loved Scotland and bought Balmoral Castle, in part, because the Aberdeenshire countryside reminded him so much of Germany. In fact, both Victoria and Albert were smitten with Scotland and this is represented in the paintings on display.
Not only did Victoria and Albert share a love for watercolour paintings, but they were also both amateur watercolourists themselves. Victoria was a lifelong student of drawing and painting and the exhibition points out that the Royal Collection has “over 50 sketchbooks and albums filled with her work”. Pictured below are some of her watercolours.
In addition to the paintings representing the personal life of Victoria and Albert, are the ones that exhibit the more public events they undertook. Some of my favourites are the paintings showing their visits to France. The watercolour depicting Queen Victoria’s entry into Paris helps us get a real feel for what it must have been like that August day in 1855. Clearly Victoria’s and Albert’s visit was filled with incredible fanfare and celebrations.
Perhaps one of my favourite paintings of the exhibition is the one by Max Berthelin, Illuminations at the Hôtel de Ville. It is a building that still holds exquisite beauty (even after the infamous fire of 1871), but I wonder why Sami and I didn’t get the same reception as Victoria and Albert did when we visited?! 😉
Of course, Queen Victoria’s mourning of Albert’s death is legendary. Her devotion for her beloved husband is shown in the closing paintings of the exhibition which are particularly poignant and demonstrate Victoria’s enduring love. One is of his mausoleum at Frogmore, and the other is the unveiling of a statue of him in Charlotte Square here in Edinburgh.
I hope you have enjoyed our brief look at the latest exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is on display until the 3rd of October, so if you happen to be visiting Edinburgh in the coming months, we recommend that you first book a walking tour with us and then a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Queen’s Gallery. Please visit their website for the most up-to-date information. Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this visit to the Queen’s Gallery, please check out our articles on previous exhibitions- including Royalty and the Romanovs, Leonardo da Vinci, and Eastern Encounters.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!