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Victoria & Albert’s Royal Houses

on May 27, 2010 – 3:06 am
Caleb Robert Stanley, Buckingham Palace: the garden front from across the lake, 1839. [Image: ©The Royal Collection]


Buckingham Palace
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to live at Buckingham Palace. The Palace had been empty for seven years when she came to the throne in 1837 and was in many ways still incomplete. In 1825 her uncle George IV had commissioned the architect John Nash to develop the former Buckingham House into a palace, but, after the King’s death in 1830, the government had put an end to the work because of the exorbitant costs. Her other uncle, William IV, had preferred to live at Clarence House for the duration of his reign, from 1830 to 1837.

After the Queen’s accession, work was carried out to provide adequate kitchens and domestic quarters, making the Palace habitable and functional. Furnishings acquired by George IV were brought from Windsor Castle and from the King’s London residence, Carlton House, which had been demolished in 1827.

Nash’s scheme for Buckingham Palace had included brightly coloured scagliola panels and columns in the entrance hall and on the staircase, but much of the work had deteriorated. In 1844, Prince Albert and his Adviser in Art, Ludwig Gruner, set about renovating these rooms. Today, following the redecoration of the Palace in the early 1900s, this scheme is known only through contemporary watercolours by artists such as Eugène Lami.

Louis Hague,Buckingham Palace: the New Ballroom,1856. [Image: ©The Royal Collection]

In 1845, with a growing family, Queen Victoria approached the Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel for help to enlarge the Palace. Proposals for the construction of a further wing across the open East side of the Palace forecourt were drawn up by Edward Blore and approved in April 1846. The new wing – behind what is now the Palace’s main façade – was to include offices, guest rooms and nursery accommodation. Plans were also approved for a new Ballroom on the south side of the building.

The New Ballroom and its adjacent rooms were designed by architect Sir James Pennethorne. They are arguably the Queen and Prince Albert’s outstanding achievement in architecture and decoration. The vast new space of the Ballroom, which measures 34 x 18 x 14 metres, blended perfectly with the existing State Rooms, with identical mirrored and glazed doors. The project was the last occasion on which Prince Albert worked with Gruner, who returned to his native Dresden in 1856.

The Ballroom’s decorative scheme celebrated Prince Albert and Gruner’s shared enthusiasm for the works of Raphael. Silk hangings covered the lower parts of the wall, while a lunette based on the Italian artist’s Parnassus took pride of place above the dais. The frieze and ceiling decoration were also inspired by Raphael, as was the decoration of the adjacent Promenade Gallery (now known as the East Gallery). Ten enormous gilt-bronze torchères and two chandeliers were made by Ferdinand Barbedienne in France and delivered to the Ballroom just in time for the Inaugural Ball on 9 May 1856.

John Thomas, Realised Design for the Queen’s Audience Room, 1861. [Image: ©The Royal Collection]

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle was a favourite residence of Queen Victoria, perhaps because it was at Windsor that her love affair with Prince Albert began.

The couple met for the second time at Windsor, when the Prince returned to Britain in the autumn of 1839 with the unspoken purpose of receiving the Queen’s proposal of marriage. They spent a month at the Castle, getting to know one another before news of their engagement was made public.

Windsor provided both a rural retreat and a magnificent palace where visiting Heads of State could be entertained. It had been extensively refurbished by George IV in the years just before his death in 1830, so very little needed to be done during Queen Victoria’s reign. The royal mews and riding school were completed, and a new private chapel was added to the State Apartments to a design by Edward Blore.

Numerous artists and sculptors, including Edwin Landseer, Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Carlo Marochetti were received at Windsor throughout the 21 years of the couple’s married life. Prince Albert reorganized the Royal Library and created the Print Room, classifying and re-ordering its superb contents and assembling a remarkable collection of reproductions of the works of Raphael. The Castle was used for many musical and theatrical entertainments by both visiting artists and musicians, and the royal children.

William Corden the Younger, Windsor Castle: the Blue Room, looking toward the window, c.1868. [Image: ©The Royal Collection] 

In 1858 Prince Albert commissioned new dairy buildings in the Home Park to replace the inadequate 18th-century facilities. John Turnbull, Clerk of Works at Windsor, was responsible for the design of the building, and the interior was planned and executed by the sculptor, decorator and architect John Thomas. The complex included a creamery for the preparation of dairy products in the most up-to-date and scientific fashion. Thomas employed the very latest decorative techniques, using ceramics by Minton in Stoke-on-Trent.

Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle in 1861. The Queen employed the architect A.J. Humbert to construct a richly decorated mausoleum in the grounds of Frogmore House. As a more public memorial, she renamed the Wolsey Chapel in the Castle’s Lower Ward the Albert Memorial Chapel, where an effigy of the Prince was installed.

George Greig, Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Presence Chamber or Evening Drawing Room, 1863. [Image: ©The Royal Collection]

Palace of Holyroodhouse
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert paid their first visit to Scotland in 1842, travelling to Perth, Stirling and Edinburgh. This visit engendered a deep love of the country – the Prince wrote to his grandmother, ‘Scotland has made a highly favourable impression on us both’ – and led to the purchase of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire as a Highland holiday home.

The royal couple undertook a major renovation of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which had been neglected in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Palace was seen as a strategically placed stop on the long journey north to Balmoral and during Queen Victoria’s reign it was gradually reinstated as Scotland’s foremost royal residence. In the 1850s the spectacular plasterwork ceilings in the Royal Apartments were cleaned and repainted in rich colours. The scheme by the decorator David Ramsay Hay was short lived, but was captured in a series of watercolours by the Scottish artist George Greig.

James Roberts, Balmoral: the Queen’s Dressing Room, 1857. [Image: ©The Royal Collection] 

Balmoral Castle
Balmoral Castle was first leased by Prince Albert in 1848 and subsequently purchased in November 1851. The 15th-century house was soon regarded as inadequate and was replaced by an entirely new, larger building. Prince Albert helped with the design, and Queen Victoria wrote proudly, ‘all has become my dearest Albert’s own creation, own work, own building, own laying out’.

The interiors of Balmoral were given a strong Scottish flavour. The carpets, curtains and upholstery were in a range of tartans, including ‘Hunting Stuart’ and ‘Balmoral’, designed by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Wallpaper incorporated patterns of thistle and heather, and the walls were hung with drawings by Edwin Landseer and prints of his paintings, mostly Highland scenes. In the Drawing Room there was a remarkable set of 12 candelabra in the form of Highlander figures holding deerstalking trophies, a collaboration between two British manufacturers, Minton and

Winfield. Furniture was made by the London firm of Holland & Sons to simple but high-quality designs, mostly in light woods, such as satin birch or pine. Pieces for the most important rooms were embellished with silvered mounts, decorated with the royal couple’s ciphers or Scottish symbols.

Every year the Queen and the Prince travelled north for their autumn Highland holiday, enjoying the home of their own making and the freedom they found there. Prince Albert made his final visit to Balmoral in 1861, just months before he died. The Queen continued the tradition of the annual Highland stay following Prince Albert’s death, making her last visit to the Castle in 1900.

Thomas Cubitt, Osborne: Design for the Entrance Front, 1851. [Image: ©The Royal Collection]

Osborne House
In 1843 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decided that Brighton Pavilion, George IV’s seaside residence, no longer afforded them the privacy they required. With a growing young family, they wanted to retreat from London to a more comfortable home.

The Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel was charged with the task of finding a suitable place and inquired on the Queen’s behalf about two houses on the Isle of Wight – Norris Castle, which the Queen knew from childhood visits with her mother, and Osborne House. Prince Albert visited Osborne in 1844 and was immediately struck by its potential as a family home. The Queen bought the house the following year.

Osborne remains the single most important example of the shared tastes of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen valued it as ‘a place of one’s own, quiet and retired’. For Prince Albert, it gave him the opportunity to act without interference from the government.

At Osborne, Prince Albert largely acted as his own architect, collaborating with the architect Thomas Cubitt and his adviser Ludwig Gruner. The panoramic views of the Solent reminded him of the Bay of Naples and inspired his plans to replace the existing house with a new Italianate villa surrounded by terraced gardens. The Pavilion was the first part to be built, and the family moved in during September 1846.

James Roberts, Osborne: the Prince’s Dressing Room, 1851. [Image: ©The Royal Collection]

The new Osborne House was intended first and foremost for the enjoyment of family life away from the formality of the official palaces, but it was also designed to display art. The top-lit staircase hall was dominated by Joseph Engel’s marble group Amazons and an Argonaut (1846) and led to an L-shaped Gallery designed for sculpture. Here the Prince displayed works such as Christian Daniel Rauch’s Victory (c.1851) and a version of John Gibson’s statue of Queen Victoria. In the spring of 1847 the Prince’s Dressing and Writing Room was hung with two dozen early Italian paintings, as seen in James Roberts’s watercolour of 1851. The adjoining Queen’s Sitting Room, where the royal couple sat at adjacent writing desks, was dominated by Winterhalter’s Florinda and surrounded by works by Landseer and other contemporary artists.

A significant number of the works of art at Osborne were reminders of the life the Queen and Prince Albert enjoyed in Scotland. Carl Haag’s Morning in the Highlands and Evening at Balmoral were both displayed at Osborne, as were Winterhalter’s portraits of tartan-clad children. It was at Osborne, not Balmoral, that the royal couple created their Horn Room, which was furnished almost entirely with pieces made from antlers.

The royal family established a pattern of visiting Osborne in March, May, part of July and August and late November and December, leaving for Windsor for Christmas. Following Prince Albert’s death at Windsor in December 1861, the Queen retreated to Osborne for three months. She subsequently stayed at Osborne for Christmas and for almost every anniversary of her wedding for the rest of her life. Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901, aged 81.


Victoria & Albert: Art & Love Exhibition:
Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace: 19 March – 5 Dec 2010

Admission details: Open daily 10:00 – 17:30 (last admission 16:30). Closed 2 April. Advance tickets from www.royalcollection.org.uk or (+44) (0)20 7766 7301. Buy tickets directly from the Royal Collection and return to The Queen’s Gallery free of charge for a year. Simply register on the first visit.