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Patrons and collectors of art

Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73)

The cousins: Queen Victoria and Victoire, Duchesse de Nemours Signed and dated 1852

Oil on canvas | 66.7 x 50.8 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 404875

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Victoire, duchesse de Nemours (1822-1857), was first cousin to both the Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the daughter of their uncle, Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg. A childhood playmate of Prince Albert at Rosenau, Victoire was described by Queen Victoria as ‘like a dear sister to us’ (Benson and Esher 1908, p.167). She married Louis, duc de Nemours, second son of the King of France, in April 1840, only two months after the royal wedding in England. Eight years later she was forced into exile with the rest of the French royal family by the Revolution of 1848, living at Claremont House in Surrey. The Duchess was a frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace and it was there that ‘secret’ sittings took place for The Cousins: ‘Dear Victoire & Nemours came to luncheon, & remained til after 3, Vic sat to Winterhalter for the secret’ (Journal, 29 June, 1852). The sitters occupy a two seater ‘tête-a-tête’, in the style of Georges Jacob but not recognisably from the Royal Collection. The background landscape with hills and a river may be imaginary. Queen Victoria wrote that Prince Albert was ‘greatly pleased’ with the painting (Journal, 26 August, 1852).

The duchesse de Nemours died in 1857 at Claremont at the age of thirty-five, after giving birth to her fourth child, Blanche. Soon after, Queen Victoria compiled a commemorative album which included a watercolour of the Duchess on her deathbed (RCIN 929285). She also commissioned three additional copies of The Cousins from William Corden, and a bust of Victoire from Marochetti (RCIN 45138). The Queen wrote of her cousin, ‘She was so dear, so good – one of those pure, virtuous, unobtrusive characters who make a home peaceful, cheerful and happy’ (Surtees 1975, p.248). The picture was hung in the Queen’s Bedroom at Osborne.

Signed and dated: F Winterhalter / 1852

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