Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Painting of the Day: Franz Winterhalter’s “The First of May,” 1851

The First of May
Franz Winterhalter, 1851
The Royal Collection
May 1, 1851 was an important day in the life of Queen Victoria. And, so, as one does, she commissioned Franz Xaver Winterhalter to paint a commemorative portrait befitting the occasion.

The date marked the first anniversary of the birth of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught as well as the eighty-second birthday of Prince Arthur’s godfather, the Duke of Wellington. Not only that, but it was the opening day of The Great Exhibition!

Winterhalter’s composition purposefully reminds us of Italian Baroque scenes of the “Adoration of the Magi,” as we see the Duke of Wellington from behind presenting Lilies of the Valley to the infant Prince who is held firmly in Queen Victoria’s arms. Lilies of the Valley were a traditional gift on May Day—given for good luck.

As usual, Winterhalter has done an a remarkable job with the painting. While an idealized look at this trio, it is nonetheless realistic. 

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