Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince Albert Prince Consort (1819 - 1861) 1860c.

Franz Xavier Winterhalter, Studio of 

Portrait of Prince Albert Prince Consort (1819 - 1861), Franz Xavier Winterhalter, Studio of
Oil on canvas
19th Century
33 ¾ x 27 ½ inches 86 x 70 cm
HRH Prince Leopold Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; His daughter HRH Princess Alice Countess of Athlone; Her daughter Lady May Cambridge; By descent.
The association of Prince Albert and Winterhalter his painter may be taken as an emblem of the new age, and the new enthusiasm that the Prince Consort ignited in this country. In artistic patronage it was a decisive break with the lingering Hanoverian tradition of such painters as the previous royal favourite Sir George Hayter; in the new mood of domesticity and humanity it exemplified the character of the Prince who was such a decisive influence over Britain and its Queen in the last two decades of his life, and whose zeal for the peaceable pursuits of trade and science moulded the character and underpinned the prosperity of Victorian England.

The ancient house of Saxe-Coburg had long been known as the stud-farm of Europe, and Prince Albert had been groomed for his position as consort to the Queen of England for much of his life. It was necessarily one in which he acquiesced, under the guidance of his uncle Prince Leopold, later King of the Belgians. He was introduced to Victoria early, on a brief visit to England in 1836 whilst her uncle King William IV was still alive, and he appeared to find the Princess Victoria amiable company. After an education broadened by a grand tour under the tutelage of Count Stockmar he returned to the country four years later as the intended Prince Consort, to be plunged into one of the most potentially difficult roles that politics and protocol could devise.

Even before his marriage he was prey to the machinations of British party politics, and the annuity of £50,000 which had been proposed for him by Lord Melbourne, the Queen’s favourite, was reduced to £30,000 by Sir Robert Peel and his party. There was little affection among the Tories for the idea of a foreign consort, but the impression that Albert made upon the Queen and the people was far more favourable. His wedding to the Queen was marked by rain which became – as the couple left Buckingham Palace – glorious sunshine, and Victoria remarked: ‘There cannot exist a dearer, purer, nobler being in the world than the prince.’

Recognising that his unusual role, as husband but not master of his wife, required especial tact in all its aspects he adhered to the precepts exemplified in a letter written ten years later to the Duke of Wellington, where he described his purpose as being:

‘to sink his own individual existence in that of his wife; to aim at no power by himself or for himself; to shun all ostentation; to assume no separate responsibility before the public - to make his position entirely a part of hers - to fill up every gap which, as a woman, she would naturally leave in the exercise of her regal functions - continually and anxiously to watch every part of the public business, in order to be able to advise and assist her at any moment in any of the multifarious and difficult questions brought before her, political, social, or persona - to place all his time and powers at her command ‘as the natural head of her family, superintendent of her household, manager of her private affairs, her sole confidential adviser in politics, and only assistant in her communications with the officers of the government, her private secretary, and permanent minister.’

By the time of the Queen’s first pregnancy all initial hostility to the Prince had died down to the degree that only one vote – that of the Queen’s uncle the Duke of Sussex, who must have desired the role for himself – was cast against his being appointed regent in the event of the Queen’s death in the Act of July 13th 1840. As Lord Melbourne told the Queen, this was entirely a reflection on the Prince’s character and the degree to which he had won over the people and the Houses of Parliament: ‘Three months ago they would not have done it for him.’

Albert’s enduring legacy remains the fruit of the Great International Exhibition of 1851. Not only was this the showpiece to the world of British industry and ingenuity – not least in Paxton’s extraordinary Crystal Palace that housed the exhibits – but the precincts around the southern edge of Hyde Park were to become – in accordance with the Prince’s wishes – the home of London’s first municipal museums. In the South Kensington Museum of Art and Design – now the Victoria and Albert Museum – and the Natural History Museum the spirit of the Great Exhibition, the sense of wonderment at the marvels of nature and industry, is preserved for posterity.

The remainder of Queen Victoria’s reign was overshadowed by the Prince Consort’s death in 1861. it had long been predicted that his ceaseless exertions would wear him out, and – by Count Stockmar – that his weak constitution would be unable to bear the first severe fever that struck him. Even his own predictions tended this way, and he is said to have remarked to his wife that were she and their children safe he would not fight serious illness. This was proved true when he succumbed to typhoid fever, arising – it is said – from the antiquated drains of Windsor Castle.

This portrait is one of the last images of the Prince. It is a half-length studio version of the full-length portrait of 1859 in the Royal Collection which shows the Prince in the uniform of a colonel in the Rifle Brigade. The colour of the cloth is not black as it at first appears, but the distinctive ‘rifle green’ first adopted by certain light infantry regiments in the American War of Independence and the precursor of modern camouflage. As with all of Winterhalter’s portraits of the Prince it flatters his elegant figure, and accentuates in its pose the tightly fitted uniform. The original portrait was painted as a companion to a portrait of the Queen seated in robes of state. The orders worn by the Prince here are ribbon and star of the Order of the Garter and the neck badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece, but the full-length portrait includes a wealth of extra detail, as the shako to the Prince’s Rifle uniform lies on a table to his right and piled upon the other side are the robes and collar of the Order of the Bath. This quietly dignified yet romantic conception of the Prince proved extremely popular. It was engraved several times during his lifetime and then copied by Winterhalter himself a decade later for the Queen who presented to the portrait to the fledgling National Portrait Gallery. A further full-length replica is in the collection of the Palace of Westminster.

From its provenance it would appear that this example was executed in Winterhalter’s studio for the household of the youngest of Victoria and Albert’s sons, Prince Leopold Duke of Albany (1853 – 1884) whose descendants retained it until this year.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.