22/05/2019Gifts exchanged between Victoria and Albert shed light on passionate relationship
A new display at Osborne reveals the intimate birthday presents exchanged between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Romantic and risqué birthday presents exchanged between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert will be on display at their holiday home, Osborne, from Friday, 24 May.
This Friday will mark the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria's birth. Albert was also born 200 years ago, celebrating his birthday on August 26.
The new display 'Celebration: Victoria & Albert's Birthday at Osborne' will provide an intimate glimpse into the private romantic lives of the royal couple at their seaside retreat on the Isle of Wight.
Together they celebrated many birthdays at Osborne over the years. Now more than 80 of these gifts will be on display to the public.
A different side to the queen
Queen Victoria may have given the appearance in her later life of an austere and prudish monarch, but the birthday gifts exchanged between her and Prince Albert tell a different story. They suggest a sexually-charged private relationship.
Personal portraits, nude sculptures and a painting of bathing maidens are among some of the presents on display at Osborne which reveal an intense passion between the royal couple.
This expresses a deeply intimate relationship which they were not able to show publicly.
Michael Hunter, English Heritage Curator at Osborne, said:
'Queen Victoria may be remembered as the mourning widow in black, but these gifts show a different side to her personality. She was open to nudity and the sensuous, more open than Albert who perhaps surprisingly was the more prudish of the pair. It was Victoria who purchased Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s Florinda, a painting of semi-nude women preparing to bathe, for Albert’s birthday, and it was her wish that it should hang directly opposite their writing desks at Osborne, where it remains today.
'The new display and new trail at Osborne for Queen Victoria’s birthday showcases these objects, casting off perceptions of traditional Victorian sensibility and showing a woman most ardently in love with her husband and with art.'
'Tender' birthdays at Osborne
At Osborne on Thursday 24 May 1849, on the queen's 30th birthday, Victoria wrote in her journal: 'this day was again welcomed in by the tender love & affection of my dearest Albert'.
And so it goes on in her journals, year after year of birthday mornings recorded at their Isle of Wight home, beginning with the ‘tender love’ of Albert whilst a band played under their window.
This was until Albert died suddenly in 1861 and Osborne changed for the Queen. She no longer visited on their birthdays and her love of collecting art dwindled, there being no Albert to share it with.
Victoria and Albert's top 5 romantic gifts
1. Florinda by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73), 1852
Depicting Florinda and her companions being spied upon by King Roderigo of Spain as they prepare to bathe, Victoria regarded the painting as 'a most lovely picture containing a group of beautiful women' and was unperturbed by the female figures in various states of undress. Florinda was given to Albert by Victoria on his birthday, 26 August 1852. It was then displayed opposite their side-by-side writing desks at Osborne.
2. La Filatrice Addormentata (or The Sleeping Spinner) by Julius Troschel (1806-63), 1845
The Sleeping Spinner is a white marble sculpture of a sleeping nude female figure reclining on a chair, her legs covered by material and a forgotten ball of yarn and a spindle at her feet. Given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert on 24 May 1849, this sculpture had pride of place in the Drawing Room at Osborne, catching the eye of many a visitor to the Queen.
3. Prince Albert by Emil Wolff (1802-79), 1844
Prince Albert commissioned a statue of himself as a Greek warrior for Queen Victoria’s birthday in 1844. In traditional dress, at the centre of his breastplate is Victory, bearing in her hands a palm of Peace and a garland of honour, identifying the Prince as the Queen’s champion. Upon receiving the gift, Victoria called the statue 'very beautiful' (journal, 8 September 1844) but said, 'we know not yet where to place it'. However, it seems that Albert had a change of heart about this slightly revealing depiction, and it was resigned to a corner at Osborne: 'Albert thinking the Greek armour, with bare legs & feet, looked too undressed to place in a room' (Journal, 1 September 1846). A second version of the statue was commissioned, with the addition of sandals and a longer tunic, and currently resides at Buckingham Palace.
4. The Bather by John Lawlor (1820-1901), 1855
Given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert on her birthday, 24th May 1855, this white marble statue depicts a nude female figure seated on a rock, looking down over her right shoulder in a pensive pose. The Bather was not hidden from view and can still be found in the Billiard Room at Osborne.
5. L’Allegro by William Edward Frost (1810-77), 1848
Inspired by John Milton’s pastoral poem L’Allegro (The Happy Man), published in 1645, Frost’s painting depicts the Three Graces from Greek mythology, the daughters of Zeus. Euphrosyne, personifying joy, leads her semi-nude sisters (Aglaia representing elegance and Thalia embodying youth and beauty) in dance whilst playing a tambourine. Queen Victoria commissioned this painting for Prince Albert’s birthday in 1848 after seeing its larger version at the Royal Academy in May of the same year. The painting can now be seen in Victoria’s Dressing Room at Osborne.
Discover more gifts exchanged between Victoria and Albert at Osborne.
Plan your visit to Osborne and see the gifts in the new display.
Find out more about Victoria and Albert.