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Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793-1865)

The Grandmother's Birthday Signed and dated 1856

Oil on panel | 71.7 x 57.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 403605

Queen's Lift Corridor, Osborne House

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  • In its tender depiction of three generations this painting encapsulates the joys of family life, a theme particularly important to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In June 1858 following the birth of Crown Prince Wilhelm (later Kaiser Wilhelm II) to the 18-year-old Princess Royal, Queen Victoria wrote excitedly to her eldest daughter: ‘I delight in the idea of being a grandmama; to be that at 39 and to look and feel young is great fun…I think of my next birthday being spent with my children and a grandchild. It will be a treat!’ (Hibbert 1984, p.106).

    By the time he painted The Grandmother’s Birthday Ferdinand Waldmüller was already a well established artist, having first exhibited at the Vienna Academy in 1822. With little formal training, he taught himself by copying Italian and Dutch old master paintings in Vienna and in Italy, where he made twenty separate visits. In this example the composition, with its pyramidal arrangement of figures, has affinities with several of Raphael’s depictions of the Holy Family, while the naturalistic depiction of the faces and careful observation of the interior recollects an interest in seventeenth-century Dutch masters. An exhibition of Waldmüller’s works in the Gewerbeverein at Vienna in 1856 apparently so caught the eye of the British ambassador, Sir George Hamilton Seymour, that he arranged for the artist to travel to London, and for a private showing of his pictures at Buckingham Palace (Werner, 1971, p. 369). While Prince Albert bought The Grandmother’s Birthday for the Queen, she in turn bought another picture, The Interruption (or The Surprise) as a Christmas present for the Prince.

    Waldmüller painted quickly and left behind over a thousand paintings, the majority of which are now in private collections. He worked in a variety of genres, including portraiture, landscapes and miniatures. He was appointed Professor at the Vienna Academy, where his radical writings on art and his teaching methods – which promoted the progressive style of realism in painting over the more traditional, ideal manner – aroused hostility from the art establishment.

    Signed and dated: Waldmüller 1856

    Text adapted from Victoria and Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010

    Purchased by Prince Albert (payment dated 24 June 1856, £63, PA Ledgers)

    Given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert on her birthday, 24th May 1857. [Victoria & Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010, pg 459]

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel


    71.7 x 57.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    106.8 x 93.4 x 9.7 cm (frame, external)