Saturday, October 9, 2010

Masterpiece of the Week: Sir Edwin Landseer’s “Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha,” 1839

Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1839
The Royal Collection
This unusual portrait from the private collection of Queen Victoria is the work of the magnificent Edwin Landseer from whose skilled hand came some of the most beautiful portraits, landscapes and animal scenes produced by any British painter.

The sitter is Queen Victoria’s cousin, Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Victoire was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s mother’s elder brother, Duke Ferdinand of Saxe-Gotha. She is painted from the back as she gazes out into the horizon. Landseer included Victoire’s black cocker spaniel in the piece. It’s hard to say if this was because of a particular attachment Victoire had to the dog or because Edwin Landseer really enjoyed painting dogs—something for which he is remembered to this day.

Landseer considered this highly detailed work to be “just a sketch” as indicated in the notation on the reverse of the canvas. It is thought that the “sketch” was drawn without Victoire’s knowledge. Viewers of the work found it odd and enchanting. The painting was given as a gift to Queen Victoria from one Baroness Lehzen on September 10, 1839. The Baroness described the work as “a lovely sketch in oils Landseer has done of Victoire’s back, as a surprise for me; it is so like, - such a treasure — just the figure of that Angel.”

Landseer shows us that a figure that is drawn properly is recognizable as a particular person even from behind. This strange pose at once reminds us of his talent as a painter and the quiet beauty of Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

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