Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait Study of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort (1819-1861) 

Sir William Boxall (1800-1879)

Portrait Study of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort (1819-1861), Sir William Boxall
Oil on canvas
19th Century
31½ x 25¾ in (80 x 65.5 cm)
Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle (the frame stamped verso ‘Queen’s Personal Property’); By whom given to her daughter, HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, in 1899; Thence by descent to HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent, KG, KT; By descent to HRH Prince Michael of Kent.
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It is most unusual for pictures to leave the royal collection, and this example may be deemed an exceedingly rare case; a life portrait of Prince Albert, hung at Windsor by his widow Queen Victoria, and later owned by his daughter, Princess Louise. The portrait was painted in 1858/9 by Sir William Boxall as a study for the full-length of Albert commissioned by Trinity House, the lifeboat association of which Albert had appointed Master. The finished full-length was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859, and is considered one of Boxall’s best portraits.

Boxall, perhaps better known today as a director of the National Gallery, from 1866-1874, had a successful portrait practice from the 1840s. His portraits were frequently referred to as ‘noble’, a euphemism for ‘stiff’. However, the present study is, perhaps by virtue of it being unfinished, refreshingly free and spirited. Albert’s hand, for example, is only loosely sketched in at his chest, while his sash of the order of the garter appears as a simple impression of colour.

Conservation by Philip Mould Ltd has revealed that the picture was subsequently over-painted in parts of the dress and background with a thin darker layer of paint some time after it was completed. This may have been done as a result of the picture’s unfinished state, in order to give it a greater sense of cohesion. It is possible that this over-paint was added by Princess Louise, who was given the picture in 1899 and who was a talented artist in her own right. Further evidence that such unfinished pictures did not meet with royal taste may be found in the fact that for many years the portrait was framed as an oval, with the outer edges covered by an inserted ‘slip’. The slip, however, has had the effect of slightly altering the colour of the later added layer of over-paint, as can now be seen in the oval outline around the picture.

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