LONDON – The United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria often evokes images of a stern-looking monarch dressed in head-to-toe black, but a new show that explores a more candid image of her delves into her private life with unique and rare pieces from her wardrobe that previewed in Kensington Palace on Tuesday.
A set of exhibitions, “Victoria: Woman and Crown” and “Victoria: A Royal Childhood,” mark the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth (May 24, 1819) and explore how the monarch struck a balance between her varied roles of mother, wife, queen and head of a growing empire.
“Queen Victoria is a sort of black slate at the start of her reign, so the right-wing press write about her as the first conservative queen and the left-wing press want to portray her as the beacon of liberal hope,” curator Claudia Williams told the press at a preview.
“But what we get through this exhibition is a sense that Victoria, as her life progresses, she slowly takes control of her own image and her story,” Williams added.
Victoria was told she would become queen at the age of 18 while she was still living in Kensington Palace, her childhood home, to which it is reported she replied: “I will be good,” curator Caterina Berni continued.
The palace promptly started making moves to prepare everything for her future coronation but she’d had a strong base of study up until now, Berni added.
“Victoria: A Royal Childhood,” which will become a permanent exhibition at the palace in which the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live, unravels in the very rooms where Victoria spent her childhood.
Each space is curated chronologically and has been restored to recreate the decor the rooms would have had at the time.
Doll houses, portraits, miniatures, rugs and antique furniture pieces decorate the spaces.
The second exhibition, “Victoria: Woman and Crown,” focuses on Victoria as a queen, wife and mother, and offers a glimpse into her passions such as the theater, ballet and opera.
“She loved the theater, she loves the ballet, she loved the opera, and in order to escape the restraints of the Kensington system and the difficulties in the palace, strict rules she was having to go through, she escaped in her imagination and she escaped in her trips to the theater and the opera,” Berni told the press.
“She used to go to Drury Lane all the time, sometimes a few times a week, sometimes back to back performances so we are taking visitors out now of the palace and recreating what would have been in her imagination,” the curator added.
Also on show are some of the garments she wore: a pair of fashionable silver boots and a crown that she refused to wear out in public.
“Queen Victoria, from the time of her marriage to Albert, refused to wear a crown in public unless it was for a particular public function. She preferred to always wear a bonnet because Albert couldn’t wear a crown because he had no right to one and she wanted to appear very much as his equal,” Williams continued.
“This became popular with the public so as opposed to appearing as a queen lauding over everyone she appeared as a woman, a wife and that’s a figure people could relate to,” the curator concluded.
Victoria was very much in love with Albert (1819-1861), and his death affected her profoundly, after which she only wore black in an extended period of mourning that never ceased until her death in 1901.
During her 63-year reign, which has only been surpassed by the current UK head of state Queen Elizabeth II, Victoria signed every one of the over 200,000 laws Parliament passed.