Prince Albert proved himself to be an involved patron using his own expertise to foster artistic talent, his twin pursuits of Northern and Italian painting inclined the prince to encourage living artists. For example, Albert acquired paintings from contemporaries such as William Dobson, William Dyce, Charles Eastlake and Michael Wittmer1, whose work added to the vocabulary that he favoured, be it a reflection of religious subject matter, purity of line and colour or the ‘Raphaelesque’ concerns discussed in the introductory article.
In particular, artists of English and German descent were called upon to orchestrate a series of portraits, ceremonial paintings and scenes of everyday life by Royal commission2. His international upbringing also afforded him the benefit of an appreciation for sculpture, commissioning pieces from Italian, German and French artists3; English artist William Theed was also engaged in the mid-1850s to make life-size plaster groups for the over-doors in Buckingham Palace4. The prince’s ambitions in “raising public tastes in art”5 were realised in a number of key appointments, such as when Prime Minister Robert Peel made Albert chairman of the royal commission advising government on the Houses of Parliament’s renovations6.
Projects such as these gave Albert further opportunities to mix with leading artists of the period: As President of the first Fine Arts Commission, Albert fostered fresco, literary and historical schemes, opening up the newly built Garden Pavillion of Buckingham Palace as a site for artists to experiment with a variety of fine art techniques7.
Pietro Tenerani (1789-1869), Flora, signed and dated 1848, marble, RCIN 2050, Grand Entrance & Marble Hall, Buckingham Palace. Purchased by Prince Albert in 1849 for his collection at Osborne. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.
Financial constraints on Albert as a patron and collector meant that he made shrewd choices when operating within this capacity; he mostly opted to exert an economising and productive form of patronage that would benefit Britain. To this end, in the industrial landscape, Albert supported copies and reproductions along with new designs and innovations: Flora after Tenerani, for example, entered the Royal Collection in 18598. This support would extend to the promotion of British manufacturing and the Prince gave frequent loans and gifts to the Royal Collection. In short, an exchange of ideas relating to industry, design sources and the arts foregrounded the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, after a drawing room, 1854, Royal Collection Trust.
In his lifetime, Albert’s involvement in artistic processes and his organisation and arrangement of the works in his collection was highly notable, proving that the Prince not only collected art, but that he also engaged with it in many different aspects. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s collections were vast in range and scope, perhaps best evidenced when Kathryn Jones discusses the lending of ‘furniture, tapestries, medallions, lacquer ware, ancient ironwork, and arms as well as, Sevres porcelain and lace’9 to Henry Cole concerning a museum of applied arts at Marlborough House.
The First Room at Marlborough House, William Linnaeus Cassey, 1856. Museum no. 7279. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
In the area of painting, scheduled visits as a matter of state representation to exhibits such as the Antwerp exhibition of Fine Arts and annual showcases of the Royal Academy in Britain10 ensured that Albert was placed to observe and appreciate art. Albert himself was not ignorant of practical methods of artistry and was well-acquainted with the artist’s studio and its processes, making frequent visits to these as learnt from his sojourns in Florence and Rome.
A Visit to the Royal Academy in print.
When Albert arrived in England, a point was made of visiting John Martin’s studio11, which further instigated a ‘more informal form of contact with artists’12 from a monarch, seen also as a guest in the home and working environment of Sir Edwin Henry Landseer. Albert honed his own skills, which would aid his reputation as an informed patron of the arts, as ‘a proficient and studious amateur artist’13 by branching into painting, etching and design which Lady Bloomfield recounts when she writes of Albert:
[H]is great object through life had been to learn as much as possible, not with a view of doing much himself – as, he observed, any branch of study or art required a lifetime – but simply for the sake of appreciating the works of others; for he added quite simply and without any self-consciousness or vanity, ‘No one know the difficulties of a thing till they have tried to do it themselves; and it was with this idea that I learnt oil painting, water- colour, etching, fresco paintings, chalks and lithography, and in music I studied the organ, pianoforte and violin, thorough bass, and singing.14
In my next article on Prince Albert, we shall be exploring his curatorial character in how he managed and arranged the works acquired within the royal household. We’ll also begin to see his working influence over London’s museums and galleries as they stood in Victorian England.
21Avery-Quash, Introduction, pp. 3-8.
22‘Paintings’, Royal Collection Trust.
23Avery-Quash, Introduction, pp. 3-8.
24Remington, Prince Albert and their relations with artists, pp. 2-16.
25‘The Art Union’, The Art Journal, Volume 3 (Virtue and Company, 1840), p. 201. 26Banerjee, ‘The Prince Consort and his Legacy’.
27C. A. P. Willsdon, Mural Painting in Britain 1840-1940: Image and Meaning (Oxford University, 2000), p. 50.
28Avery-Quash, Introduction, pp. 3-8
30Remington, Prince Albert and their relations with artists, pp. 2-16.
31R. Nikkhah, ‘John Martin, the artist vilified by establishment, had gained a royal fan’, telegraph.co.uk, 11 September, 2011, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8754977/John-Martin-the-artist-vilified-byestablishment-had-gained-a-royal-fan.html [accessed 2017].
32Remington, Prince Albert and their relations with artists, pp. 2-16.