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Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-1901)

A Scene from 'Der Hahnenschlag' Signed and dated 1852

Oil on canvas | 63.0 x 47.4 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 403663

Prince Consort's Dressing Room & Writing Room, Osborne House

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  • In January 1852 the six eldest royal children appeared in a performance of August von Kotzebue's 1803 comedy, Der Hahnenschlag (The Cockshy). Queen Victoria wrote of the performance, of which the closing scene is recorded in her painting: ‘The stage was very prettily arranged & the dresses very nice. There was no a hitch of any kind & I thought the children acted very well’ (Journal, 12 January, 1852). The original programme is preserved in the Royal Archives. Such plays, which typically included musical interludes, were a regular feature of royal family life, involving dedicated rehearsal with the children’s tutors to achieve the appropriate level of professionalism.

    The story is set in a small German village on a special festival day – the wreaths hung on the trees were typical decorations on such occasions. Prince Alfred plays Peter Lorch, a rich farmer, here wearing a brown coat and black tricorn hat, who walks ahead of his wife Margarethe (played by the Princess Royal) and daughter Hanchen (Princess Alice). In the foregound are two more of the farmer's children, Wilhelm (Princess Helena) and Lieschen (Princess Louise). The Prince of Wales plays Fritz (seen here in the background wearing a blue coat), a poor peasant boy who has to sell his only possession, a cockbird, to provide food for his starving mother.

    The characters are all dressed in traditional Bavarian Tracht costume, the girls in full skirts trimmed with ribbon and the boys in Lederhosen and Hosenträger (braces). Queen Victoria took a particular interest in ethnography and national costumes – when travelling she regularly sketched peasants in traditional dress, and she also insisted on Highland costumes for her staff at Balmoral.

    The progress of the painting is recorded in Queen Victoria's Journal; she worked on it diligently throughout the first few months of 1852 and it was finished in early May. On 13 January she wrote in her Journal: ‘Albert kindly painted a little at my picture, Lenchen standing so nicely and looking such a duck in her costume’. Stylistically, the picture displays the influence of Winterhalter who taught the Queen oil painting during his visits to England in 1851 and 1852.

    The picture was hanging in the School Room at Buckingham Palace in 1875 (Inventory).

    Signed and dated: V R-1852

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

    Painted by Queen Victoria; signed and dated 'VR - 1852'

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    63.0 x 47.4 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    77.7 x 62.5 x 6.1 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    A scene from Der Hahnenschlag

    A scene from Der Hahnenschlag, Windsor Castle, 6 January 1852