Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour exhibition

23 April 2021
Egron Sellif Lundgren, The Gillies' Ball, c.1859. Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021
An exhibition of 80 watercolours collected by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, an evocative visual record of their public and private lives together, opens on Monday 26 April at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour features numerous works by Scottish artists, many of which are on display in Scotland for the first time.

Throughout their marriage Victoria and Albert were passionate patrons of watercolour painting and spent happy evenings together organising their thousands of watercolours into albums, as the Queen recalled fondly in her journal. These albums recorded moments of both personal and historic significance, foreign travel and diplomacy, scenes from family life, and the homes they created together.

The Queen and her consort travelled frequently around the British Isles and commissioned artists to depict the places they visited. William Wyld’s romanticised view of Manchester, painted to record their visit in 1851, shows an idyllic pastoral foreground contrasted with a mass of smoking chimneys in the distance. The work correlates with Victoria’s own account of the ‘endless chimneys & factories’ in the newly industrialised city.

William Wyld, Manchester from Kersal Moor, 1852. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021 

A watercolour by William Leighton Leitch depicting the royal yacht sailing into Granton Pier, on display for the first time, emphasises the warm welcome Victoria and Albert received when they arrived in Edinburgh for their first tour of Scotland in 1842. Victoria wrote afterwards that ‘Edinburgh made a great impression upon us; it is quite beautiful & totally unlike anything I have seen’.

Victoria and Albert shared a romantic view of Scotland, partially inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, admiring the rugged landscape of the Highlands, which Victoria described as ‘beautiful, so wild & grand’. Albert bought the Balmoral Estate in 1852 to create a family home, Balmoral Castle, where artists were regularly invited to record the scenic views, fishing trips and Gillies’ balls that the royal family enjoyed every autumn.

The Drawing Room, Balmoral, 1854, by James Roberts. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021

In the years shortly before Albert’s death, he and Victoria made four ‘Great Expeditions’, travelling incognito to scenic spots in the Cairngorms and staying in local inns under pseudonyms such as ‘Lord and Lady Churchill’. On display for the first time is a watercolour by Richard Principal Leitch depicting one such expedition, when the royal party were led on horseback across the river by the Falls of Tarff at the head of Glen Tilt, accompanied by two pipers. Victoria recalled the exhilarating moment in her journal: ‘A few minutes brought us to the celebrated Ford of the Tarff…which is very deep & after heavy rain almost impassable….where the current, from the fine high falls, is very strong…It was quite exciting’.

Exhibition details

Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour is at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh from 26 April – 3 October 2021. Visitor information and tickets for The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse here. Tel: +44 (0)30 3123 7301. Advance booking is essential.

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