Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait enamel of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), wearing wedding attire, white lace veil, a wreath of orange blossoms, Turkish diamond earrings and necklace 1841

William Essex (1784-1869)

Portrait enamel of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), wearing wedding attire, white lace veil, a wreath of orange blossoms, Turkish diamond earrings and necklace, William Essex
Enamel on gold
19th Century
Oval, 1 5/8 in (41mm) high
Probably commissioned by Queen Victoria; By repute, Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1901), later Empress of Germany
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This portrait enamel of Queen Victoria on her wedding day was painted by William Essex after George Hayter’s large oil painting The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840. Hayter produced several head-and-shoulder enamel portraits of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, which were set into bracelets and given as gifts to their close circle. Essex was also commissioned to produce these small mementoes of the Royal Wedding, as can be seen by the present portrait, and possibly worked alongside Hayter. This is evidenced by the fact that the present portrait is dated the year before Hayter completed his ambitious painting and this head study of the newly married Queen may have been taken from the life sittings in the months after the wedding. At the wedding ceremony Queen Victoria was attended by twelve train-bearers, all daughters of peers of the realm. Each girl received a gold brooch, designed by Prince Albert, in the form of an eagle and set with turquoises and pearls (to represent true love), rubies (for passion) and diamonds (for eternity).

Given Victoria’s love of personal jewellery, it is not surprising that portrait miniatures or enamels were often incorporated into gifts that she gave or received. In fact, her earliest jewel-memory was of a portrait miniature given by her ‘Uncle-King’, George IV, in 1826. Remembering the occasion in later life, she wrote: ‘He said he would give me something to wear, and that was his picture set in diamonds, which was worn by the Princesses as an Order to a blue ribbon on the left shoulder.’ She wore it on her sleeve at the first State Dinner after her accession. The hand written date on the counter enamel of the present portrait, which is also adorned with her personal cipher, is typical of jewels and gifts that she commissioned during her reign.

Queen Victoria is seen gazing lovingly at her new husband Albert in this enamel portrait. She described her wedding day in her personal journal as; ‘Oh! this was the happiest day of my life! – May God help me to do my duty as I ought and be worthy of such blessings!’
She meticulously noted every detail of the day including her attire:

‘My hair dressed and the wreath of orange flowers put on…I wore a white satin gown, with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings.’

The Turkish suite was worn on other important occasions – for example, the necklace and earrings were worn at the christening of her first child, Princess Vicky. The reputed provenance of this enamel, given to Victoria, Princess Royal, may have been an allusion to the fact that the same jewels were worn at her christening in 1841.

Victoria and Albert spent two decades happily married and had nine children together. Following Albert’s premature death from typhoid in 1861, the Queen descended into deep mourning. After Albert’s death, many of her magnificent jewels were retired, including the Turkish suite. She gave the necklace to her daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Connaught, who wore it at the coronation of King George V in 1911. The necklace was inherited through generations of the Connaught family until the 3rd Duke of Fife sold it at auction in 1970.

Alongside his brother Alfred, William Essex trained as an enamellist with Charles Muss (1779-1824), enamel painter to William IV. It was presumably through Muss that William Essex was introduced to members of court and the royal family. William and Alfred continued to produce large portrait enamels which had been made popular by Henry Bone (1755-1834). Following Alfred’s emigration to South Africa, William continued their business in England alone. Enamel painting was a technically demanding process, prone to issues, particularly during the firing process. In his last few years, he wrote in the Art Journal that he ‘never finish[ed] a picture in less than ten fires, and I have subjected one to thirty’.

Essex exhibited at the RA from 1818, working predominately in enamel, although he is known to have worked on ivory and in oil. He was appointed Enamel Painter to Prince Albert, the year that this portrait of Victoria was painted, in 1841 and made several miniature copies of the royal couple after Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873). Essex submitted twenty portrait miniatures for display at the Great Exhibition of 1851, lent from the Queen’s collection. Although he was an extremely successful portrait painting during his lifetime, Essex later fell into reduced circumstances and asked the Queen to supplement his annuity with a pension which she willingly agreed to. Examples of Essex’s work survive in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Royal Collection.
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