March 31, 2009 / 10:18 AM / 10 years ago

Queen Victoria emerges as the great "image maker"

EDINBURGH (Reuters Life!) - Two paintings of Queen Victoria by Edwin Landseer in an Edinburgh show from the royal collection show the 19th century monarch’s talent as one of the great “image makers” of British royalty.

Sir Edwin Landseer's 'Windsor Castle in Modern Times' (1840-43) is seen in this undated handout image. REUTERS/The Royal Collection/2009 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II/Handout

“The Conversation Piece: scenes of fashionable life” on show at the Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood Palace shows the informal side of royal and upper class family life and entertainment.

The show comprises 36 works by a range of European and English artists heavily influenced by the great Dutch and Flemish technical mastery of fine detail and texture.

Desmond Shaw-Taylor, the Surveyor of the Queen’s Paintings, said Landseer (1803-73) superbly mastered the “Nederlandisch” technique in his portrayal of Queen Victoria, sketching pencil in hand with her young family at Loch Lagan in the Scottish highlands, and with her husband Prince Albert — just back from a day’s shooting — and the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle.

Scenes such as these depicting a wholesome, loving, normal family were a form of propaganda circulated to the public through prints and etchings to emphasize respectability of the queen’s family life.

Shaw-Taylor avoided the term “propagandist,” but he said Victoria was undoubtedly one of the great “image-makers” the royal family had produced.

He said this exhibition had started with a desire to show off the works of the German neoclassical artist Johan Zoffany (1733/4-1810), whose skill in producing miniature portraits and copies of other masterpieces within a single overall work is amazing.

“Our exhibitions are always from within the royal collection, so you have to begin by looking for a group of works that must at some time be shown...and in this case it’s the Zoffany group,” Shaw-Taylor told Reuters at a preview to the show which runs to September 20.

“I decided that the idea of the Conversation Piece was a way of taking it not only outwards through the 18th century, but also back into the 17th century in Holland, and then forward to the 19th century.”

The paintings reflect the English upper class society of the day and make an interesting contrast to what might be expected in France, for example.

Outside the family groups, the entertainment is very masculine.

In Zoffany’s detailed depiction of members of the Royal Academy in London looking at a nude male model in the life drawing room, the academy’s two female members are present only through their portraits on the wall.

“It would be inappropriate for them to be gawping at an undressed model,” Shaw-Taylor said.

In 18th century France, where society had moved to Paris from Versailles after the death in 1715 of Le Roi Soleil, Louis XIV, there would be much more intermingling of the sexes through salons and soirees.

The French were always puzzled by the English attitude toward the sexes.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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