Queen Victoria's painting finally comes home to Osborne House after 100 years

  • 21 November 2008

A painting bought by Queen Victoria for £200 in 1841 and which hung in her dressing room at her home, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, until her death in 1901, will now return to the very same room. La Siesta, by the German artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter, who later became her favourite portrait artist, was bought at auction yesterday by English Heritage for Osborne House, with support from The Art Fund, the UK's leading independent art charity.

La Siesta is a painting of three Italian girls relaxing in sun and was bought at Sotheby’s from the collection of the late Sir David Scott for £73,250. The Art Fund, which is entirely funded by donations and its 80,000 members, gave £44,886 towards the acquisition. The Island Friends of Royal Osborne also contributed to the purchase.

Just 22 when she ordered La Siesta from Winterhalter from his Paris studio, Queen Victoria received the painting on 22 December 1841, and wrote in her journal: "To-day I got from Paris a beautiful picture by Winterhalter which I had ordered. It is quite small, representing a "Siesta", three lovely Italian girls, with one of them asleep."

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said: "This exquisite painting by one of the foremost portrait painters of the mid 19th century was chosen by Queen Victoria herself when she was just 22. She would have seen it in her dressing room everyday on waking and retiring when at Osborne House. Now after more than 100 years, The Art Fund has helped bring the painting back home to Osborne House, where it will be re-hung in the exact position in which it was placed for almost the entirety of Queen Victoria’s reign."

Michael Hunter, English Heritage Curator at Osborne House, said: "It's wonderful to be able to return this magnificent painting to Queen Victoria’s dressing room at Osborne House after such a long time. Queen Victoria bought the work from Franz Xaver Winterhalter during the second year of her marriage to Prince Albert and she would have enjoyed looking at the painting every day during regular visits to her seaside retreat on the Isle of Wight.

"This intimate study of three Italian girls relaxing in the shade of the hot Mediterranean sun will be restored to its original location in the room where it can be enjoyed by the thousands of visitors who come to Osborne House each year. We are very grateful to The Art Fund for this important grant."

There are currently nine portraits by Winterhalter at Osborne House, but none of the artist’s "fancy pictures" as Queen Victoria called them, now remain in the house. These were removed to other royal residences after Queen Victoria’s death. Some, as in the case of La Siesta, were given to members of the Queen’s family by King Edward VII. The painting was acquired at Christie’s in 1972 by the late Sir David Scott for £1,260.

By the time she bought La Siesta, Queen Victoria had become dissatisfied with the British artists to whom commissions for royal portraits had gone. Winterhalter was at the beginning of his illustrious career and he soon became the ex officio court portraitist to the British royal family, visiting England most summers and painting over 100 portraits of Queen Victoria alone.

Winterhalter quickly became in great demand at all the courts of Europe and was patronised by Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France, King Louis Philippe of France, Queen Elizabeth of Spain, the Empress of Russia and Leopold I King of the Belgians. He was so popular that Queen Victoria complained from time to time about his not troubling to answer her letters: "Winterhalter is most provoking saying he won’t come to England, that he has Russians and Poles to paint. He may give way but I doubt it?" she wrote in May 1863. But she also wrote of him, "?saw Winterhalter begin a picture of Affie, [the Queen’s second son, Prince Alfred] and in less than an hour he had produced an admirable likeness. He really is a wonderful artist."

Winterhalter died of typhus in 1873. "How terrible is Winterhalter’s death," Queen Victoria wrote to her daughter, Victoria the Crown princess of Prussia, "His work will rank with Van Dyck. He painted you all from birth."

English Heritage wants to restore the interiors at Osborne House to their appearance around the time of Queen Victoria’s death, which includes returning ‘lost’ works of art to the house. The homecoming of La Siesta will have a considerable impact.


Notes to picture editors:

For an image of La Siesta and a photograph from the 1870s of Queen Victoria’s dressing room which shows La Siesta in situ, please contact The Art Fund press office on 0207 225 4888 or email mburbidge@artfund.org

Notes to editors:

About The Art Fund:

The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; it campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; putting together a unique funding package to ensure Dumfries House in Ayrshire and its contents were secured intact for the nation in July 2007; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit www.artfund.org

Osborne House:

From November to March, the house is open for pre-booked guided tours, allowing visitors to enjoy a selection of rooms at a quieter time of the year in the company of one of our expert guides. For details of our annual Christmas tours and events please call the house or visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/osbornehouse

English Heritage:

English Heritage was established by the National Heritage Act 1983 as the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. It is an executive, non-departmental body with a Commission appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and is the Government statutory adviser on the Historic Environment. For more information visit: www.english-heritage.org.uk