This year, 2019, is set to be quite a celebration for those of us who admire and enjoy Victorian times - that fascinating synthesis of romance and reason that spanned much of the 19th century. This is because the woman who gave her name to the era, Queen Victoria was born 200 years ago in Kensington Palace - on 24th May 1819. Her husband Albert, the Prince Consort, was also born in the same year on 26th August in southern Germany. A double bicentenary!
Theirs is a partnership that shaped the age. And although Victoria’s long and sometimes notoriously gloomy widowhood became amost as memorable as her marriage, I think it is worth sometimes going back to the early days of Victoria and Albert’s turbulent relationship and just reminding ourselves how full of vitality they both were, and how very much in love they must have been.
Surely, no one will have captured this quite so well as the artist Károly Brocky, (or Charles Brocky as he became known outside of his native Hungary). Just look at these fabulous chalk drawings made by Brocky shortly after their wedding.
Victoria, coloured chalks on buff paper, 1841
Albert, coloured chalks on buff paper, 1841
It was to be one of the most productive and politically significant partnerships of history, but it was also clearly one that began with an irrepressible spark of youthfulness and delight.
By the way, Victoria and Albert were not only born in the same year, but they were also cousins, with their family origins in the duchy of Saxe-Coburg in Germany. Victoria was born in England. Albert at Schloss Rosenau in Coburg.
Schloss Rosenau c.1900
The artist Károly Brocky
Brocky, was a Hungarian national, born in 1807. He had an uncertain start for one who would go on to be a highly sought-after artist. The son of a hairdresser he worked for a while as an itinerant actor before managing to secure a place at a Viennese drawing school, before journeying to Paris, enrolling at the École du Louvre. He came to London around the age of 30, where he exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1839 and the New Watercolour Society from 1840. He traveled widely and received numerous commissions as a portrait artist. Sadly, he died young, in 1855.
Károly Brocky - self portrait
Vivacity and charm
At the time of Victoria's marriage in 1841, photography was still very much in its infancy, and when a serviceable version of a camera did come along a few years later, those who wished to be rendered in the new medium were obliged to stand still in front of it for inordinate lengths of time while the exposure took place - a time span typically measured in minutes rather than mere seconds. This is why those appearing in Victorian photographs (and certainly early Victorian photographs) look so stiff, and why nobody smiles.
These marvellous and, spontaneous chalk drawings, on the other hand, have surely captured the vivacity and charm of the young couple perfectly. Exhibited at the Queen’s Gallery, London in 2010, and currently housed at Balmoral Castle, they must be among Brocky’s best work, and have assured him a place in history. And of our gratitude.