All together now! Queen Victoria’s right royal family gathering
9th December 2016
If you're considering having the family over for Christmas this year, spare a thought for Queen Victoria and some of her gigantic family gatherings. This magnificent painting by Danish artist Laurits Regner Tuxen (1853-1927) reminds us that Queen Victoria's extended family was vast, and ranged over much of Europe. There were (and still are, of course) family connections in Germany, Denmark, Russia, Belgium - all across Europe and into the Americas. There were connections everywhere! Festive gatherings on important occasions, therefore, really were on a massive scale: like this one.
A good proportion of the Crown Heads of Europe, all together in the Green Drawing room at Windsor. Click to enlarge.
I think this is a fabulous work of art. And a triumph of composition. Entitled simply 'The Family of Queen Victoria in 1887,' it really is worth taking a close-up view at the royal collection website. There, you can sweep around and zoom-in on all the individual characters.
Queen Victoria and her Golden Jubilee
The Queen commissioned it on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee in 1887, celebrating 50 years of her reign. A huge gathering of all the children and grandchildren, clearly not everybody could have been present at precisely the same time. So they were each rendered separately; painted from life by the artist at various times, and then assembled into the final composition. At the Queen's own request, it was always intended to be an informal and natural picture. The artist has succeeded admirably, I think, in achieving this.
Artist, Laurits Regner Tuxen
Tuxen was a notable Danish painter of the time, rightly famed for his wonderfully composed group scenes. Victoria was probably introduced to his work through her daughter-in-law, Alexander. She was know to have admired one of his earlier group portraits of the Danish royal family. Queen Victorian adored her extended family. She took a lively interest in their welfare and knew all their characters well. It certainly must have been one of the painter's greatest challenges.
Victoria seated at the centre, surrounded by grandchildren.
A scene of harmony?
Is it all a scene of wondrous harmony? Well, no - not exactly. It would have been a tall order - what with the Queen having married her children into just about every major royal family in Europe - for the in-laws not to be subject to the occasional family tiff. For instance, the Princess of Wales (herself Danish) rather disliked the German side of the family into which Queen Victoria's eldest daughter had married. This was largely because Germany had recently been at war with Denmark.
Alexandra, Princess of Wales.
She, Alexandra, therefore expressed a wish not to be shown standing near to the Kaiser, fondly known as ‘Fritz.’ Consequently, he can be found away to the far right, a good distance from both the Princess and the Prince of Wales (Bertie). The prince himself, meanwhile, standing near to the seated Queen, has actually turned his back towards Fritz!
Poor Fritz all on his own.
Wilhelm, Queen Victoria's grandson, (later to be known during the years approaching the First World War as Kaiser Bill) is also posing rather unusually. He is the 2nd male from the left, staring outwards, perhaps through a nearby window, but not otherwise engaging anyone in conversation. All these subtle messages would have been perfectly understood by the highly evolved Victorian sense of etiquette.
Young Wilhelm, looking away.
Other than that, they all seem to be having a jolly good time. And during the coming festive season, I hope you will, too.