English ( b.1843 - d.1878 )
|Card size||12.4 inches x 7.7 inches ( 31.5cm x 24cm )|
Available for sale from Big Sky Fine Art; this charming delicate watercolour drawing is the work of one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Alice Maud Mary, of the House of Hanover.
The work is supplied unframed.
Provenance: Hansons Auctioneers, Derbyshire 23rd April 2009, lot # 423.
The picture depicts a winged angel looking down at a small baby lying in a cradle. The angel holds a scroll, emblazoned with “Long life and happiness” A date, “June 8th 1860”, is written clearly and prominently above the child, signifying a date of birth. The painting is signed simply “Alice” and the date of its completion is recorded as “June 11th 1860.”
The painting demonstrates that the young Princess, just 17 at the time, was an accomplished and sensitive artist. The work commemorates the birth 3 days earlier of a baby who must have been of considerable social standing. The fact that the cradle is decorated with blue ribbons and trimmings does not necessarily suggest a male child, as the practice for pink for a girl and blue for a boy was not established at this time.
Princess Alice of the United Kingdom became Princess Louis and Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine by marriage. She was born on 25th April 1843 and was the third child and second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Like her siblings she spent her early childhood in the company of her parents and siblings, travelling between the British royal residences.
Her birth prompted her parents to purchase Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight, and for Alice this was very much her family home. Here, at her father’s insistence she and her siblings learnt family values and practical skills such as housekeeping, cooking, gardening and carpentry.
During the Crimean War an eleven-year-old Alice toured London hospitals with her mother and elder sister, and this triggered an interest in health and public welfare that continued all her life. Alice was considered the most emotionally sensitive of her siblings and was genuinely sympathetic to the burdens of others. Her compassion meant that she became the family caregiver. She nursed her grandmother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent, mother to Queen Victoria, throughout her final illness, and provided emotional support for all the family after her death.
As Alice reached adulthood Queen Victoria made plans for her to be married. Queen Victoria wanted her children to marry for love, but the choice of suitors was nevertheless severely restricted by protocol. After Alice rejected the first two potential suitors her mother and elder sister suggested Prince Louis of Hesse, a minor German royal heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse. He and his brother were invited to Windsor Castle in 1860, ostensibly so that they could watch the Ascot Races in the company of the royal family. In reality the visit was a chance for the Queen to inspect her potential son-in–law. Louis and
Alice got on together well, and Alice made it clear that she was attracted to him. They became engaged the following year.
The visit to Windsor Castle by the German Princes in 1860 is of interest because, Royal Ascot being in June, this was precisely the time when Alice painted this commemorative piece. By deduction rather than speculation, it is probable that Alice created this work at Windsor Castle within days of meeting her future husband, in a time of rare personal happiness.
Alice and Prince Louis became engaged in April 1861, but between the engagement and their marriage Prince Albert became ill with typhoid fever, and a solemnity and sadness descended on the British royal household that was to endure for many years. Alice nursed her father through his final illness; he died on 14th December 1861. Following his death Queen Victoria entered into a period of intense mourning and Alice spent the next six months acting as her mother’s unofficial secretary. On 1st July 1862, while the court was still at the height of mourning, Alice married her Prince. The Queen ordered that the wedding should continue as planned, but the ceremony itself was a small, private and gloomy event, and Alice’s life after marriage was largely unhappy as a result of impoverishment, family tragedy and, later, worsening relations with her husband and mother.
Alice was a practical, intelligent and industrious woman. She was a prolific patron of women’s causes, especially nursing and was a friend and follower of Florence Nightingale. In the Austro-Prussian War she devoted much of her time, even whilst heavily pregnant, to the management of field hospitals. One of her organisations, the Princess Alice Women’s Guild, became a national one, taking over much of the day-to-day running of military hospitals.
Alice suffered much personal tragedy, including the death of her youngest son, Friedrich, in 1873, from which she never really recovered. In 1877 Alice became Grand Duchess of Hesse and the increased duties put a strain upon her health. Her last visit to England was in 1878. Later that year the Hesse court and her own family became ill with diphtheria and she nursed them; her youngest daughter Marie died however and Alice again knew the pain of losing a child. She kept the news of Maries’ death a secret from her other children out of concern for their own health. When she told her son Ernest several weeks later he was distraught and Alice broke the rule about no physical contact with the sick and comforted his with a kiss. This was to prove fatal. Within days she developed diphtheria, caught from her son, and died.
Alice died on the anniversary of her father’s death, 14th December 1878 at the New Palace in Darmstadt. She was just 35 years old, the first of Queen Victoria’s children to die, and one of three to be outlived by their mother.
Alice’s death had an emotional effect both in Britain and Hesse. The Times wrote “The humblest of people felt that they had the kinship of nature with a Princess who was the model of family virtue as a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother “Queen Victoria referred to her “self-sacrificing character and fearless and entire devotion to duty”. Alice’s descendants went on to play significant roles in world history. Princess Alice was mother of seven children, including Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia (empress consort of Tsar Nicholas II), maternal grandmother of Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, and the maternal great- grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, consort of Queen Elizabeth II.