Here at EAF2017, we are excited to announce the arrival of Big Sky Fine Art gallery, who are bringing with them a mysterious watercolour. Read further to find out more.
Carefully kept by Big Sky Fine Art is an intriguing 24 x 32cm watercolour by one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Alice Maud Mary House of Hanover. Depicted in the painting is an angel perched on a cloud, looking down at a small child. The image is clearly signed and dated June 11th 1860, with a scroll inscription reading ‘Long life and happiness,’ and a second date central to the frame - perhaps signifying a date of birth: ‘June 8th 1860.’
The provenance of the art work is clear, as is the life of the artist, (you can view a full biography of Alice at Big Sky Fine Art) but what remains a mystery, is the identity of the child. One hundred and fifty years after the painting is dated, is it possible to find out the child’s identity and the reason princess Alice chose to paint them? Here is what we know and don’t know so far.
Alice was 17 years of age when she painted the watercolour, and if the central date does signify a birth date, the child would recently have celebrated their 157th birthday. Whilst we are almost certain of the age of the child, the gender remains ambiguous; the painting shows both blue and pink details, with a majority of blue, however the tradition of gender assigned colours was not relevant at this time. Furthermore, the pink that we see now, may have faded from a red colour dependant on how the painting was preserved. That we don’t know the gender of the child is aggravating, but we do however, know significant details about the royal artist.
Alice had been described by the Times as ‘the model of family virtue as a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother,’ and was renowned for being the most emotionally sensitive of Queen Victoria’s children. As a friend and follower of Florence Nightingale, this care and devotion extended far beyond her family to the large proportion of her life that she dedicated to nursing. Bearing this information in mind, could the child in question could be someone who received care from Alice?
The diaries of the Queen may also lend us clues to the identity of the subject in question. Her collection of journals tell us that Alice was by no means the only artist in the family, as Queen Victoria herself was an amateur water colour painter, and often sketched her day to day life. A month after Alice’s water colour is dated, the diaries of Queen Victoria show another young child labelled ‘’Little Charlotte of Prussia (our granddaughter)’ painted in formal dress with a full skirt. The two children appear to be slightly different ages, but could they be linked or the same person?
Although currently we are not able to identify the child through the information we have, the watercolour represents a very significant point in the artist’s life; this artwork was painted just days before the meeting of her to be husband, prefiguring her later duties as a mother to her children. The serene image also captures a calm before the storm of her later tumultuous life, rife with illness and tragedy, and ending in an early death at the age of 35.
Whoever this child was, we can only hope they had more fortunate course of life than princess Alice herself, and did indeed live the blessed ‘Long life and happiness.’