Victoria Day - In Honour of a Great Romance
This portrait, commissioned in 1843, shows the young Queen Victoria with her long brown hair loose around her shoulders, gazing into the distance. She was just 24 when painted by the German artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter and his work was described as her husband Albert's "favourite picture". The artwork is just one of 400 paintings, drawings, photographs, drawings and sculptures which will appear in an exhibition Buckingham Palace, showing the Queen's enthusiasm for art.
Jonathan Marsden, chief curator of the exhibition established in 2009 that focuses on the younger Victoria, said the collection should challenge the image of Queen Victoria as a melancholy widow who grieved her husband's death for 40 years.
"This exhibition will overturn the popular image of Queen Victoria and reveal an energetic, passionate young woman who delighted in the company of artists, musicians and performers and who idolized the opera and ballet stars of the time," he said.
"Commissioning and exchanging art was at the very heart of Victoria and Albert's relationship."
Victoria Day is a Canadian statutory holiday celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25. It honours Queen Victoria's birthday. In 2012 it is Monday, May 21.
The above mentioned exhibition, Victoria & Albert: Art and Love, focuses on the time between her ascension to the throne in 1837 and Albert's death in 1861.
One of the Queen's journals shows her delight upon accepting the proposal of marriage: "Oh! to feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel as Albert was too great a delight to describe!
"He is perfection in every way - in beauty, in everything!"
Victoria and Albert with their children celebrating Christmas
Many of our Christmas customs can be traced back to Great Britain during the Victorian era. The Christmas tree, Christmas cards, carol singers and Santa Claus stem from this era. The BBC produces an excellent television program called Victorian Farm Christmas. In it you get to see how people would have actually made Wassail punch or Christmas tree decorations in the Victorian era. This is all due to how the populace emulated the style in which Queen Victoria celebrated the festive season.
It's hard to imagine now, but at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated. Many businesses did not even consider it a holiday. However by the end of the century it had become the biggest annual celebration and took on the form that we recognise today.
The transformation happened quickly, and came from all sectors of society.
Many attribute the change to Queen Victoria, and it was her marriage to the German-born Prince Albert that introduced some of the most prominent aspects of Christmas. In 1848 the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree, a tradition that was reminiscent of Prince Albert's childhood in Germany. Soon every home in Britain had a tree bedecked with candles, sweets, fruit, homemade decorations and small gifts. The now familiar Christmas cracker was invented in the 1880's and remains essentially the same today. The Christmas card industry also began in this time.
While Charles Dickens did not invent the Victorian Christmas, his book A Christmas Carol is credited with helping to popularise and spread the traditions of the festival. Its themes of family, charity, goodwill, peace and happiness encapsulate the spirit of the Victorian Christmas, and are very much a part of the Christmas we celebrate today.
These themes seem to encapsulate the aspects of life most important to Victoria and Albert.
A Nation Mourns
Prince Albert's tomb at the mausoleum at Frogmore
When Prince Albert, died in the winter of 1861, the 42-year-old queen and her nation were paralysed with grief.
Britain was in mourning for the German-born Prince Consort who had helped to bring stability to the monarchy and who had been everything to their popular queen ... husband, companion, father of their children, friend, confidant, wise counsellor and unofficial private secretary. Their love was a great one.
Sympathy poured out for the royal family at their shattering loss but gradually the public grew impatient with her cult of grief and court circles became weary of the never-ending imperative to wear nothing but black and festoons of jet mourning jewellery (albeit a boom time for Whitby’s jet-making industry).
Victoria & Albert's daughters with his memorial bust
Over the next ten years, Victoria’s retreat into a state of impenetrable pathological grief and her stubborn refusal to return to public life sparked a resurgence of republicanism and even talk of abdication.
It took the near-death from typhoid of her much-maligned eldest son Bertie in 1871 to finally shock the reclusive queen out of her self-indulgent and self-imposed isolation and take up with renewed vigour the reins of monarchy for another 30 years.
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