Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Art of Play: Queen Anne and her Children Doll Group, 1835-1850

Queen Anne and her Children
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Since the Eighteenth Century, wealthy families—especially the English—had a distinct love of enlcosing decorative artifacts in glass-fronted frames and boxes. This paractice reached the height of fashion in the 1850s.

Aside from souvenirs, artifacts, religious relics, personal items and memorials, these cases often held delicate playthings such as this group of dolls which is housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The name of this group of dolls is “Queen Anne and her Children” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and has long been considered rather mysterious.

As the curators of the V&A put it, “Queen Anne (reigned 1702-1714) had such a tragic experience of motherhood.” The group of dolls shows three adult females in addition to the queen. Even if the three additional figures are ladies in waiting, or the governesses of the Queen’s young children, at no point did Queen Anne have children who survived to the ages represented here.

Queen Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683 and had at least thirteen miscarriages or stillbirths. Five surviving children each died young - Mary and Anne under the age of two, and George and a second Mary a few hours after birth. The longest surviving of her children, William, died of smallpox in 1700, at the age of eleven.

Another mystery is the figure of the queen herself. The doll is fair-haired whereas Queen Anne was dark. Similarly, the costumes are from 1835-50, rather than 1684-1700 when the Queen was at her height. While this may be artistic license such as that of painters like Charles Robert Leslie, the queer costumes are hard to overlook. And so, the group does not match its historical counterparts at all. Why it is so named, no one knows. Yet, the name has stuck for almost two hundred years.

The group of dolls—eight in all—rests in its original fronted wooden box which is covered with white and gold-colored paper and lined with red and gold paper. The whole is trimmed with gold tinsel and imitation pearl ornaments. The dolls have cotton bodies and limbs, and leather hands with separate fingers and thumbs. Their costumes are of silk trimmed with lace, artificial flowers, pearl beads, metallic lace, gold foil and mother-of-pearl.

Two panels of red velvet, edged with mock ermine adorn the Queen who wears a crown of metallic lace decorated with beads and gold foil and holds an orb and sceptre. 

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