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William Leighton Leitch (1804-83)

The Swiss Cottage, Osborne House drawn 1855

Pencil, watercolour and touches of bodycolour | 19.7 x 27.8 cm (whole object) | RCIN 919867

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A watercolour of the Swiss Cottage at Osborne, seen from the garden, with ladies watching gardeners at work. Dated in the Souvenir Album and on a previous mount, 1855.

Osborne House on the Isle of Wight was built as a summer retreat for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert between 1845 and 1851, designed by Albert himself in the style of an Italian palazzo. The Swiss Cottage was built in the grounds on Albert's instruction between 1853 and 1854. It was intended as a place where the royal children could play at adult life, learning to cook and sew, maintain gardens, and to collect objects that were placed in a museum. The chalet-style building was influenced by a similar cottage in the grounds of the Rosenau at Coburg, where Prince Albert grew up (see RCIN 920443).

The watercolour shows the allotment plots in front of the Cottage. Each child was allocated a plot of the same size, and was given responsibility for its upkeep. The boys were paid wages by Prince Albert, and worked two or three hours every day. The children could choose what to grow, usually planting potatoes, strawberries and currants.

William Leighton Leitch was one of Queen Victoria's favourite watercolour artists, and she commissioned many watercolours from him for her View Albums. Leitch also taught the art of watercolour painting to the Queen and her children. He often stayed at Osborne during the summer. In 1856 he was paid £4 3s for his expenses (Royal Archives: WRA PP2/20/7268), and on 24 September was paid 12 gns for this drawing of the Swiss Cottage and for another of the Vinery (RCIN 919859).

This watercolour was originally mounted in View Album VII. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert compiled nine View Albums during their marriage. These albums contained watercolours and drawings documenting their life together and were arranged in chronological order. The albums were dismantled in the early twentieth century and rebound in new volumes both in a different arrangement and with additional items, but a written record of their original contents and arrangement still exists.