Books & Manuscripts

Rare Etchings by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

By Richard Fattorini

P roviding a rare glimpse behind the closed doors of the Royal family, Sotheby’s is offering a magnificent album of personal etchings made by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert that only close friends and family were privy to during their lifetimes. The earliest were created in 1840 shortly after the couple were married and the latest in 1848; many depict their children, pets and private life in Windsor and Claremont.

Eos & Cairnach by Prince Albert after Edwin Landseer

Both the Queen and Prince Albert were interested in art, as collectors and as artists themselves, although Victoria was the more talented of the pair. They were taught etching initially by George Hayter and later by Edwin Landseer, and drawing and sketching was a favourite pastime for them at home at Windsor and Claremont.

Victoria produced 62 etchings while Albert made 25 and they occasionally worked together on the same plate and only a few examples were printed of each etching. This was a private pastime and prints or bound sets were only occasionally bestowed as gifts as is the case with this lot offered in the Royal & Noble sale, a beautiful leather bound album, stamped with the crowned initials of Victoria and Albert, which was presented by the Queen to her official biographer, Sir Theodore Martin.

It is almost a complete album, including all but five of Queen Victoria's etchings and all but two of Prince Albert's. The etchings not included are generally reworkings of other etchings present. Recounting receiving the album in 1869, along with a now-lost letter that originally accompanied the gift, Sir Theodore said: "Of Her Majesty's executive power as an artist I cannot speak, as what I know of her work is confined to a few slight sketches, and the etchings which she made, when Prince Albert and herself were for a time fascinated by that attractive but difficult process. Of these I owe to the Queen's kindness a complete series. They came with the following note:- 'Osborne, May 3, 1869. The Queen sends Mr Martin to-day a volume of the beloved Prince's and her own etchings, which she has had purposely bound for him, and which she hopes he will place in his library, as a trifling recollection of his kindness in carrying out so many of her wishes."'

Victoria and Albert [The Princess Royal and the Prince of Wales] as Gotha Peasants by Queen Victoria after Sir W. Ross

Two complete sets of the etchings are known, one which is included in the Royal Collection, along with many proofs that were kept by Queen Victoria. The other complete set was presented by King George V to the British Museum in 1926, 25 years after his grandmother’s death. Although Victoria and Albert wanted to keep the etchings within their inner circle, George believed they should be preserved for the nation, and they first went on public display in July this year, at an exhibition which marked 200 years since Queen Victoria’s birth.

Victoria, Princess Royal, standing in profile under an arch of holly and ivy by Prince Albert after a drawing by Queen Victoria

The museum stated the importance of the works in giving insight into Victoria and Albert’s relationship: "The etchings offer a picture of the interests of the royal couple in their early married years. The prince had a keen interest in art and the Old Masters; he introduced Queen Victoria to German romantic literature and Goethe and Schiller in particular. Prince Albert read to the Queen from Schiller's works. Their family absorbed them and the children and dogs play an important role in the etching subject-matter".

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