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The first major study of portrait miniatures from the Victorian era

William Charles Bell (1831-1904)

Victoria, Duchess of Kent (1786-1861) Inscribed 1860

Enamel | 5.5 x 4.5 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 421899

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William Charles Bell trained as an enamel painter in Geneva before securing his first royal commission in March 1850. From then onwards, he was employed constantly by Queen Victoria for almost 50 years, painting enamel miniatures, often copied after Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s oil portraits, for her own collection and for distribution as gifts. His enamels were usually smaller than those by Henry Pierce Bone, William Essex or John Simpson, whose services she had previously employed, and many were set into items of jewellery, particularly Maid of Honour brooches. Queen Victoria’s last payment to Bell, in July 1899, was for ‘6 Miniatures on Gold for Maid of Honour brooches’. Owing to his advanced years, the Queen then gave him no further work but awarded him an annual pension of £20.

This enamel was copied by Bell after a photograph by John Jabez Mayall (2931405.a; Royal Photograph Collection). The sitter was the fourth daughter of Francis Anthony, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, and Augusta, daughter of Count Reuss-Ebersdorff. She married, firstly, in 1803, Emich Charles, Prince of Leiningen (d. 1814), with whom she had a son, Charles, and a daughter, Feodora; and secondly, in 1818, Edward, Duke of Kent, third son of George III, with whom she had a daughter, Alexandrina Victoria, later Queen Victoria. Widowed for a second time in 1820, the Duchess of Kent lived at Kensington Palace, supported by her brother, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (from 1831, King of the Belgians), and advised by the Comptroller of her Household, Sir John Conroy. Her troubled relations with Queen Victoria improved after the Queen’s marriage, and she spent her last years living in close proximity to the Queen and her family at Frogmore House, Windsor.

Signed, dated and inscribed on the gilded counter-enamel in black paint: H.R.H. / the / Duchess of Kent / 1860. / Painted by W.C. Bell. / after a coloured photograph / by Mayall.