Sunday, April 6, 2014

Building of the Week: Osborne House, The Isle of Wight

Osborne House

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert longed for an informal family home away from the stresses of court life. Their private residence at Balmoral was, apparently, rather chilly in the winter. They wanted a comfortable residence by the seaside. Victoria recalled visits to the Isle of Wight which she had taken with her family as a girl. She and Prince Albert visited the Isle of Wight and found a lovely plot of land with a cozy house which afforded beautiful views of the sea which reminded Prince Albert of his time in Naples, Italy.

The only trouble was that the house, though appropriately cozy, was too small. And, so, in 1845, a massive building project began—removing the original structure and replacing it with a grand Italianate villa of Prince Albert’s design. Prince Albert employed architect Thomas Cubitt to oversee the project. Cubitt was also working on another project with Prince Albert--adding the massive monumental façade to Buckingham Palace. Cubitt and Prince Albert worked closely together for six years—making sure every detail was exactly as the prince had envisioned it.

The rambling pastel palazzo with its twin belvedere towers was built in phases until 1851. The first phase of construction was on the square wing known as “The Pavilion” which was to house the Royal apartments and entertainment areas. The queen and prince were adamant that the mansion not have the fairgrounds feel of George IV’s indo-chinese “extravaganza” at Brighton. Their vision for a more sedate residence included soft colors and little ornamentation. Now, I suppose that they met their goal—in their eyes. While Osborne House does not have the ornate circus-tent appearance of the seaside residence at Brighton, it can hardly be called austere or plain. It is, however, dignified, and certainly marginally less formal than Buckingham Palace and quite a bit lighter and cheerier than Windsor Castle and Balmoral.
Interiors of Osborne House, 1880-1890
Prince Albert was very particular about the interiors of the house and used the Italianate theme as an opportunity to add to his growing collection of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. The Queen found the house to be “heavenly” and when at Buckingham Palace was to known to comment, “I long for our cheerful and unpalacelike rooms at Osborne.” Again, I wouldn’t call the place “unpalacelike,” but I suppose that’s relative.

Forty years after the mansion was completed, in 1890-1891, another wing was added. This wing was to include a more formal “court” room to be used for state dinners and grand functions. Nicknamed the “Durbar Room” (an Anglicized version of the word “Darbar” meaning “court” in Indian), the room was outfitted in a highly ornate Indian style.

The Royal Family at Osborne House
Queen Victoria died at Osborne House in January, 1901. Though she’d stipulated that Osborne House should remain in the family, her children had little use for it. They considered it to be something of a useless eyesore and equated it with memories of tending their own private patches of vegetables which they would “sell” to their father, Prince Albert, as his way of teaching them about economics. King Edward VII gifted the house to the State upon his mother’s death.

The Durbar Room
The Royal Apartments were maintained as a private museum dedicated to Queen Victoria while the rest of the house was used for other purposes. Over the course of the coming decades, Osborne House was used as a training college for The Royal Navy, a hospital and, later, a convalescent home.

In the late 1990’s, the house was taken under the care of 
English Heritage and returned to its original state—relying on the many photographs taken their during Queen Victoria’s residency as well as the multiple paintings commissioned of the interiors. Today, the house and its museum are open to the public.

No comments: