Coinciding with the 200th Anniversary since the birth of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace’s concise and fascinating exhibition unveils a different side of her life.

Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1856. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019.

When we tend to think of Queen Victoria it is easy to think of her as the sombre woman who stayed in mourning for the rest of her life after the death of her husband Prince Albert. But thanks to programmes such as ITV’s drama Victoria and now this lovely exhibition, a refreshing new perspective of what she was like is being unveiled.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth (24th May 1819) as well as the release of series three ITV’s successful television drama Victoria, Kensington Palace is exploring what her life was like in private and how this was reflected in her actions as Queen. Divided into several categories that reflect her as a wife, mother, Empress, Queen and widow, Victoria: Woman and Crown uses a variety of different objects, paintings and drawings to offer a variety of insightful surprises as to how she dealt with her many different roles.

In particular, it is her role as a mother that perhaps offers the most surprises in this exhibition. It is generally thought that she was a bit dismissive of her children but this exhibition puts forward the case that she was in fact a loving mother, with some of her lovely sketches that she did of her children on display alongside an apron which she wore when she attended her children’s bath time.

But it was also the way in which she was quite forward for her time with regards to attitudes towards those from other cultures and relationships with those from as far away from India, with a quote alongside this particular part of the display stating: “Natives and coloured races should be treated with every kindness and affection as brothers not- as alas! Englishmen too often do- as totally different to ourselves, fit only to be crushed and shot down!”. The exhibition’s clear strength is the way in which it manages to cover all of the major elements and roles of Victoria’s life in a a clear and concise way.

Every element of the exhibition is presented with great thoughtfulness, offering new insight into every element of her life – including her famous black dresses which she wore every day for the rest of her life following Prince Albert’s death. Although initially each dress looks the same, up close you can see how the subtle details of each dress are in fact different – highlighting that despite its colour, Queen Victoria paid immense attention to detail and used it to her advantage to create a unique style for herself that is still considered to be her most famous look now.

However, there are moments during the display in which it felt as though more detail could have been given, particularly in the final sections that feel slightly hurried. But this is a minor complaint in what is an excellently curated exhibition.

Whether you have read a lot about Victoria’s reign in the numerous books that have been written about her or whether you have been watching and enjoying ITV’s Victoria, there is plenty of surprises to be found in this gem of an exhibition.

By Emma Clarendon

Victoria: Woman and Crown is on display at Kensington Palace until the 5th January 2020.

Victoria Series Three is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD now. Victoria Series One – Three also available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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