Frances has many years' experience writing about exhibitions in art galleries and museums.
Queen Victoria's Palace: The Story Revealed
In 2019 The Royal Collection Trust presented Queen Victoria’s Palace. Marking 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria, this stunning exhibition told the fascinating story of how the young queen transformed an unloved royal residence into the beautiful treasure-filled palace we know today.
Through carefully chosen items from the Royal Collection, visitors discovered how Victoria transformed Buckingham Palace into a family home, the headquarters of the Monarchy, and a focal point for national celebrations.
No Fit Place for a Queen to Live
Victoria ascended the throne in 1937, aged just 18 years. She moved into Buckingham Palace just a few weeks later. Empty since the death of King George IV, seven years earlier, the palace was a building site, unloved and in no fit state for a Queen to live in.
Three years later, in February 1840, Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Before long, with a growing family, she realised the Palace was just not large enough.
Buckingham Palace Before and After Queen Victoria's Extension and Renovations
The Urgent Necessity of Doing Something to Buckingham Palace
In 1845 Victoria wrote to her Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, concerning “the urgent necessity of doing something to Buckingham Palace.”
In 1846 Parliament granted the Queen the sum of £20,000 to extend her new home. The Royal Pavilion, George IV’s seaside retreat at the popular resort of Brighton was sold to raise a further £50,000. In today’s terms, that’s equivalent to approximately £8,400,000.
The architect, Edward Blore, suggested the creation of a fourth wing along the east side of the palace. The great monument known as Marble Arch, which stood directly in front of the east side of the palace, was removed and reconstructed. The now-familiar balcony, where the royal family still gather today for public appearances, was added at the request of Prince Albert.
The first image shows Buckingham Palace (by Joseph Nash 1809–1878) viewed from St. James Park before extension and renovation. The second image shows the palace after the extension and renovations were completed.
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Highlights of the Exhibition
The exhibition features many striking family portraits, including Thomas Sully’s portrait of the young queen (shown at top of page). Commissioned by the Society of the Sons of St. George at Philadelphia, Sully depicts her looking over her shoulder at the viewer. She is wearing the diamond diadem made for George IV, with drop diamond earrings and a diamond necklace.
The Palace Ballroom and Themed Balls
Shortly after the extensions to the east side of the building a magnificent Ballroom was added to the State Rooms. Architect James Pennethorne was commissioned to fulfill Victoria’s desire for a space “capable of containing a larger number of those persons whom the queen has to invite in the course of the seasons to balls, concerts etc. than any of the present apartments can hold”.
Victoria and her beloved Albert hosted several magnificent “themed” balls. These provided excellent opportunities to show off Britain’s flourishing textile industry and also to celebrate British history.
Victoria encouraged her guests to commission elaborate costumes and to use the skills of the Spitalfield silk weavers, whose business was in decline. For the Stuart Ball of 13 July 1851, the theme was the Restoration period and guests adopted the style of the court of Charles.
No dress was more beautiful than Queen Victoria’s own ballgown designed by the artist Eugène Louis Lami. With a bodice and full skirt of grey moiré, the gown is trimmed with gold lace and has an underskirt of gold and silver brocade.
In her journal, the Queen wrote: “I was so proud and pleased to see my beloved Albert looking so handsome, truly royal and distinguished, and so much admired. I must say our costumes were beautifully made.” She drew herself and Albert (with Prince Charles Leiningen, her half-brother) in their Restoration outfits.
The Ball of 1856: The Opening Dance Recreated
A Grand Ball Recreated: An Immersive Experience
An innovative Victorian illusion technique known as Pepper’s Ghost allows visitors to imagine the Ballroom as the royal couple’s visitors would have seen it.
The illusion is named after John Henry Pepper, who popularised the technique. He used a stage visible to the audience and a room below that was not visible to the audience. An angled sheet of glass was placed on the stage. This reflected to the audience whatever was going on in the space hidden underneath. In the exhibition, the illusion recreates four couples, in their wonderful themed costumes, dancing the waltz to Italian composer Guiseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.
About Queen Victoria’s Palace
Queen Victoria’s Palace was curated by Dr Amanda Foreman and Lucy Peter, Assistant Curator of Paintings, Royal Collection Trust and was part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace in July 2019. For information about current exhibitions look at The Royal Collection Trust.
© 2019 Frances Spiegel