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Watercolours commissioned for Queen Victoria of her son's Russian wedding to go on display for the first time

Release date: Thursday, 4 October 2018

On 23 January 1874, Queen Victoria's second eldest son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh married Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, daughter of Alexander II, at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.  The wedding directly united the British and Russian royal families for the first time but Queen Victoria was unable to attend the celebrations. 

Image of the Orthodox marriage service of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh

Nicholas Chevalier, The Orthodox marriage service of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Maria Alexandrovna, 23 January 1874 ©

Eager that his mother did not miss the highlights of the occasion, Prince Alfred appointed artist Nicholas Chevalier to record the day for her in a series of watercolour sketches.  The results of this special commission are to be displayed for the first time in Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs, opening next month at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Prince Alfred sent his mother sketches of the wedding services that were performed, one Orthodox and one Anglican.  One of the terms of negotiation relating to the marriage was that the Grand Duchess could continue to practise her Orthodox faith. Queen Victoria would never have experienced an Orthodox wedding ceremony, and Chevalier produced a sketch of this service with two slips that could be moved to help illustrate the different parts of the ceremony. In her journal the Queen described the sketches as 'very clever'.

Chevalier also recorded the elaborate costumes of the wedding party in a series of sketches. The Grand Duchess, who became the Duchess of Edinburgh, wore a silver and gem-set sarafan, a traditional dress worn by all Russian imperial brides for their wedding, paired with the traditional kokoshnik headdress. The Duchess's sister-in-law Tsesarevna Maria Feodorovna wore 'a gown of gold-embroidered satin and train of sky-blue velvet'. 

After the ceremonies, a banquet was held for 700 guests, before a ball was staged in the splendour of the Throne Room of the Winter Palace.  Over 3,000 people attended the ball and Chevalier's sketch of the event shows dancers parting to form a passage for the bride and groom and other members of the British and Russian royal families.

Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs, opening on 9 November 2018, explores the relationship between Britain and Russia and their royal families through the unique lens of works of art in the Royal Collection.