This work attracted considerable attention when it took pride of place at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1900. It was commissioned by the Royal Agricultural Society and depicts Victoria seated in a corridor of Windsor Castle. Before her stands the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). Her great grandson, Prince Edward (later Edward VIII), holds flowers for the queen and is ushered forward by his father, the Duke of York (later George V). The artist, Sir William Quiller Orchardson, was able to arrange royal sittings from Prince Edward, the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales, who each visited Orchardson’s studio in Marylebone. Orchardson also negotiated a half hour sitting with the Queen at Windsor, but is said to have largely relied on photographs to capture her likeness. Although the portrait received mixed reviews, as a privately commissioned royal portrait from life by a British painter it remains remarkable. As one reviewer of the 1900 exhibition expressed:
‘There is an interest of absolute and unique importance about the picture: it is without exception the first time that the Royal Family has entrusted a work to an English artist of the front rank, and the event, being unparalleled, is astonishing.’
Sir William Quiller Orchardson was born in Edinburgh, the son of a tailor. He entered the Trustees’ Academy School of Art in Edinburgh, aged 13, and remained until 1855. At 16 he first exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1862 Orchardson moved to London with artists John Pettie and Thomas Graham and all three lived together in Fitzroy Square. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1863 and visited Venice in 1870. In 1877 he became a member of the Royal Academy. From about that time he concentrated on ballroom and drawing room subjects, painting a series of domestic dramas. He later focused on portraiture and his sitters included Queen Victoria and George Frederick, Prince of Wales. He was knighted in 1907 and died in London, aged 78.
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