LONDON (Reuters Life!) - An intimate portrait of Queen Victoria with her hair down -- belying her traditional frumpy image -- and a painting she commissioned of an American lion tamer form part of an exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.
"Victoria & Albert: Art and Love" brings together over 400 items collected by the couple during their 21 years of marriage, from 1840 until Albert's death in 1861.
"What we tried to do with the exhibition was bring out that it was really a partnership: that they inspired each other to collect and commission works of art. That's why we've called it Art and Love," said curator Kathryn Jones.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically, beginning with the royal couple's engagement portraits along with a giant family portrait by German artist Franz Winterhalter and a picture of Prince Albert's beloved greyhound, Eos.
Around a third of the objects in the exhibition were exchanged as gifts between the couple to mark special occasions.
Winterhalter's oil painting of Queen Victoria was meant only for Prince Albert's eyes. A secret birthday present from the queen to her husband, it depicts the queen with her hair down, wearing a pendant containing a lock of the Prince's hair.
The prince immediately declared it his favorite portrait of Victoria.
"We wanted to reinterpret Victoria and Albert, particularly Queen Victoria," Jones told Reuters. "Everyone has that image of her as an old widow in black, and we wanted to bring out the younger side of her."
Prince Albert was fond of hunting and even commissioned a sofa and two armchairs to be made from stag horns. "Apparently he wasn't a very good shot," said Jones.
Able huntsman or not, the Prince took an active role in the design of his wife's jewelry. He commissioned a necklace and matching earrings in the shape of acorns, made from gold and stag teeth which are thought to come from stags he hunted himself.
Other regalia such as the coronation necklace, brooches and the oriental tiara, as well as a richly brocaded dress worn by Victoria to a ball at Buckingham Palace are also on display.
The second room of the exhibition shows what Victoria and Albert purchased with their 2,000 pound yearly budget.
Despite popular belief that Prince Albert was the driving force behind the couple's artistic acquisitions, the queen had tastes of her own.
It was the queen who commissioned artist Edwin Landseer to paint American lion-tamer Isaac Van Amburgh and his animals.
Van Amburgh impressed London audiences with his daring feats, and Victoria watched his show seven times in six weeks.
"Victoria liked paintings that told a story or that evoked a memory for her," Jones added. "She does have quite a taste for the sentimental."
The exhibition runs until October 31
Editing by Steve Addison