Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Coronation robes , 1838

Sir George Hayter (1792-1871)

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Coronation robes, Sir George Hayter
Oil on canvas
19th Century
35 x 26 ½ inches 88.9 x 67.2 cm
Commissioned by Madame Tussaud's Museum in 1838; Private Collection
Madame Tussaud's, Baker Street, London 1838-?1880
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When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, a great opportunity beckoned for George Hayter. He seemed certain to continue the grand portrait manner of Van Dyck inherited from Sir Thomas Lawrence into the nineteenth century, and with variations define again this elevated genre for a new generation. His favour at Court and with the new Queen seemed to guarantee the exclusive access to the monarch and control of their image that had been the privilege of Sir Anthony van Dyck and Sir Thomas Lawrence. This incumbency was in fact to prove less and less advantageous after the Queen’s marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, when the Prince’s influence helped to usher in a more domestic taste at all levels of patronage, and the grand manner was left hollow and bombastic beside the gemütlichkeit of Franz Winterhalter. Yet Hayter's name is still at once redolent of the magnificent and triumphal images of the newly-crowned Queen.

The present portrait is an autograph reduction of a painting of the same year executed for the Corporation of London and still hanging in the Guildhall. A more familiar portrait of 1838 (original Holyrood House Edinburgh) depicts the Queen again at the Coronation but wearing the crown and elaborate gold-threaded dalmatic. This image, in which the crown is present but set aside in favour of a tiara and the sitter’s gaze is directly towards the viewer, instead of the abstracted and melting expression of the other portrait, may be reckoned the more satisfying of the two compositions. Kingship and Anointment are not suggested at the expense of youth, beauty and humanity, and the painting is not agitated by self-conscious drama. There is an appropriate sense, instead, of continuity, and the Queen is shown with regalia - the coronation robes, the collar and George of the Order of the Garter, the State Crown - familiar from each successive monarch’s portraiture.

The setting of the portrait may be largely imaginary, although it is painted to commemorate the Queen’s visit to the Guildhall in 1837. The Queen’s diary (Royal Archives) records fourteen sittings to Hayter between October and December of 1837. The replica was produced by permission in the following year for Madame Tussaud's museum. In that year Hayter was also working on a further reduced replica of the crowned coronation portrait for the Queen herself (Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace).

Commission by Madame Tussaud may initially seem surprising, but it is important to recognise that from its inception her waxworks was intended to have a serious and didactic purpose, as well as that of mere entertainment, and so authentic fittings and exhibits were considered as important as ingenious counterfeits. The commission dates from shortly after the waxworks acquired a permanent home in Baker Street in 1835, after thirty-three years of touring the country. There is irony in this gracious concession from a young painter who must have felt on the threshold of possibility: nearly two decades later, when fashion preferred mawkish genre to the grand manner, he employed Madame Tussaud's waxworks as the setting for Wellington Viewing Napoleon’s Effigy at Madame Tussaud's, which was engraved in 1854.

Prime Version
Guildhall, London (Engraved Henry Cousins (mezzotint) published by Paul and Dominic Colnaghi May 1839)
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