Portrait of Queen Victoria
[In Tasmanian Legislative Council Chamber. Copied in oils by John Prescott Knight from an original by Franz Xaver Winterhalter]
 
Princess Alexandrina Victoria, born on 24 May 1819, became British monarch upon the death of her uncle William IV, which occured on 20 June 1837. She became Queen Victoria and because she had just turned 18 she was able to legally rule alone. A year later, on 28 June 1838, her coronation took place and she reigned until her death on 22 January 1901.

Queen Victoria's appreciation of artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter [1805-1873] began after she saw work done by him for other European monarchs. Accordingly, between 1842 and 1861 he made fifteen visits to England and painted over a 100 portraits of Her Majesty, Prince Albert, the Royal family and many other friends and dignatories.

In 1847 Winterhalter, who was born in Mensenschwad, Germany and had studied painting in Monaco, was commissioned to paint the Queen in her robes and the image here [on the left] is the outcome of his efforts. It still hangs today at Windsor Castle, the official residence in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, England.

British-born artist, John Prescott Knight was commissioned to copy Winterhalter's work. His fine copy graces the Tasmanian Legislative Council Chamber today. Details of how it got there are mentioned below. But first some background information.

Knight [1803-1881] was a member of the London-based Royal Academy of Arts, which was established in 1768 and its headquarters have been in Burlington House, Picadilly since 1868. The Academy is often known simply as 'RA' and Knight was duly elected by his fellow artists to be a Royal Academician (RA), hence his signature 'John P. Knight, ARA'. Other examples of his work, and that of John William Bullock Knight [apparently a brother] are held, for example, in the Tate Gallery, London.



Original by F. X. Winterhalter
1847 
[ 2.7m x 1.7m]
Windsor Castle

Copy by J. Prescott Knight
1855
[4.5m x 2.43m]
Legislative Council
* Image of original portrait available online via UK Government Art Collection site http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk

Extract from
SANDSTONE AND STATUTES
THE SESQUICENTENNIAL HISTORY
OF THE TASMANIAN PARLIAMENT

[forthcoming]

Portrait of the Queen
Thomas George Gregson, first proposed allocating funds for a royal portrait on 28 April 1854 because Tasmanians were "separated from Your Majesty's gracious presence by half the circumference of the globe." Subsquently,  on 19 September,  Gregson gained the unanimimous support of his parliamentary colleagues to allocate 500 pounds "towards  procuring a portrait of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen", because it would mean "having ever before us the resemblance of a Sovereign who unites in her person  ... domestic virtue and queenly dignity."

However, it took until 6 November before Lieutenant Governor Sir William Denison advised the Legislative Council that he would send the portrait request to England, and he did so on 7 November.  Next, on 5 September 1855, almost a year after Gregson's formal request, Parliament was advised that a reply had arrived from Downing Street. It was dated 25 May 1855 and unfortunately advised that Her Majesty was 'too busy' to

"give the necessary sittings for an original portrait, but was graciously  ready to give permission that a copy should be made by Mr J. Prescott Knight, Royal Academician, of Winterhalter's Picture of the Queen in Her Robes, which is considered to be one of the best portraits of her Majesty.

I have accordingly authorised Mr Knight to make a copy of Winterhalter's portrait for the price of 250 guineas."

So wrote  John Russell, a British cabinet minister, and apparently the balance of the allocated funds went towards defraying freight and other 'incidental expenses', particularly a gold-embossed frame. Of interest, this frame mimics the original, except the royal  crest encroaches upon the top edge of the original painting, and the still blank 'title' at the bottom has been added.

For the record Winterhalter was commissioned to paint the Queen in 1847, which was nine years after her coronation. By which time she had been on the throne for a decade, yet she was still only 28 years old. Nonetheless, whether Winterhalter painted Victoria aged 18 [1837], 19 [1838] or 28 [1847] is a matter of conjecture. Recall too that Winterhalter only met the Queen in 1842 when she was 23.

Moreover, on close comparison the depiction of  her robes does not match her coronation attire: perhaps these robes were for other state occasions? These uncertainties aside, the original painting at Windsor Castle measures 2.7m x 1.7m [8 feet by 5 feet] while Knight's copy is larger at 4.5m x 2.4m [15 feet by 8 feet]. Despite its size, on 21 April 1856 Francis Hartwell Henslowe, the Clerk of the Legislative Council, noted that he 'had caused the Portrait to be unpacked and find it has arrived without injury'.

Knight [1803-1881], obviously proud to be an elected member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, whenever  painting an original work,  signed his name 'John P.  Knight, ARA'.  But in June 1858 an exhibition of 'Art Treasures' was held in the 'new' Legislative Council Chamber, which had been built in 1856. The catalogue for the exhibition lists '266 paintings and statuary' and No.1 is shown erroneously as 'Winterhalter, Queen Victoria'. Nonetheless, Knight's fine copy stills graces the Legislative Council Chamber today, having merely moved from the left to the right-hand side of the room in all these years.


Terry Newman
Project Manager
November 2003