Prince Albert (1842)

Queen Victoria (1843)

Queen Victoria (1859)

Franz Xavier Winterhalter

WinterhalterFranz Xavier Winterhalter was born in the small village of Mensenschwad in Germany. He studied painting at the academy of Monaco. In 1835, after he painted portrait of Grand Duke Leopold of Baden, Winterhalter was appointed his court painter. With that portrait his international career was launched. The royal families of England, France, and Belgium all commissioned their portraits from him. Under Napoleon III, Winterhalter became the chief portrait-painter of the imperial family and court of France. Among his many regal sitters was also Queen Victoria. Winterhalter first visited England in 1842, and returned several times to paint Victoria, Albert and their growing family, he did at least 120 works for them. Winterhalter also painted a few portraits of the aristocracy in England, mostly members of court circles. Russian aristocratic visitors to Paris also liked to have their portraits executed by the famous master. Although Winterhalter never received high praise for his work from serious critics, his royal patrons highly appreciated his ability “to create the image his sitters wished or needed to project to their subjects.” He died in Frankfurt in 1873.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with the
Family of King Louis Philippe at the Chateau D'Eu
The Family of Queen Victoria (1846)

Queen Victoria - Princess Victoria (1852) Empress Eugenie (1855)

1. Queen Victoria and her cousin, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Kohary, the Duchess of Nemours 1852

2. Empress Eugenie (of France), wife of Napoleon III, Surrounded by her Maids of Honor 1855

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Queen Victoria (1842)

The Duke of Wellington

Prince Albert (1859)

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Empress Maria Alexandrovna
of Russia (1857)
Empress Eugénie (1854) Empress Elisabeth
of Austria (1865)
Queen Isabella II
of Spain (1852)

1. Empress Maria Alexandrovna of Russia 1857

2. Empress Eugénie a'la Marie-Antoinette - Winterhalter began an official portrait of Empress Eugénie (Eugénie de Montijo, condesa de Teba, 1826–1920) shortly after her marriage in 1853 to Napoleon III, emperor of France, but it was not exhibited until 1855. The present work is, in contrast, relatively intimate in scale and effect. It shows the empress in a Second Empire adaptation of an eighteenth-century gown. Her interest in the previous century, especially her fascination with Marie Antoinette, queen of France from 1774 to 1793, is well documented.

3. Empress Elisabeth of Austria with diamond stars on her hair, wearing Worth Gown 1865

4. Queen Isabella II of Spain 1852

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Although Queen Victoria appointed British artists to the post of Principal Painter, the efforts of Sir David Wilkie, Sir George Hayter and James Sant were supplemented by the work of certain European painters brought to the Queen's attention. Such was the case with Winterhalter, who was born in Germany, but had an extremely successful career as a fashionable portrait painter based at the leading European courts. He was essentially a peripatetic artist of a truly international status who, with the help of studio assistants, had by the end of his life amassed a considerable financial fortune. 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. Queen Victoria had a very high opinion of Winterhalter, admiring particularly his ability to capture a likeness and his fresh, invigorating colour. In addition, the painters dexterous brushwork and high finish were also praised, although doubts were quite rightly expressed about the accuracy of his drawing. Together with Landseer, Winterhalter provides a vivid record of Queen Victoria's court and he was responsible for many of the more important and lasting images of the queen and the Prince Consort. His achievement is in many respects comparable with Van Dyck's images of the early Stuart court.

The First of May 1851 is a cryptic title for a painting that shows the aged 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. In addition, Prince Albert wears the badge of the Golden Fleece. 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 Crystal Palace was the principal building in the Great Exhibition to which Prince Albert made such an important contribution. Queen Victoria recorded in her Journal that on 1 May 1851, the Duke of Wellington in fact gave a gold cup to Prince Arthur, as opposed to a casket, and received from him, as depicted here, a nosegay.

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. As regards the composition, and to a certain extent the iconography, the painting resembles an Adoration of the Magi, and, indeed, is not unlike works of that subject by sixteenth-century Italian painters such as Paolo Veronese.


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