May 24, 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria, and to celebrate the anniversary, Historic Royal Palaces is hosting a major new exhibition to celebrate this historic event.
Princess Victoria was born at Kensington Palace and spent her formative years. HRP has done careful research to come up with a stunning display that will re-imagine the suite of rooms that Victoria and her mother occupied, along with the loyal Lehzen and Victoria’s ubiquitous dog Dash.
The palace team has done an impressive job curating a number of original (and some never-before-seen) artifacts. These objects are accompanied by a series of images and sounds that bring the rooms to life: dogs barking, children laughing, and music.
We see the actual rooms that Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, lived in – including her birth room, as well as a remarkable array of first-time exhibits, such as a scrapbook of memorabilia created by Lehzen, her travel cot – a new acquisition – and royal outfits.
The permanent exhibition shows us how the young Victoria tried to escape the constraints of the “Kensington system” imposed on her by Conroy, her mother’s auditor, and her mother herself.
Her life was so controlled that Victoria immersed herself in a fantasy world of story writing, doll making and drawing, inspired by her love for opera, ballet and theater.
The new route of the permanent exhibition allows us to discover history where it happened and the historical rooms are brought to life through playful interpretations and interactive displays that help visitors of all ages imagine the rooms in which Victoria played, lived and learned.
We begin the exhibition with a look at her “mourning shoes” that she wore as a toddler after the death of her father.
The carpets, wallpapers and curtains were lovingly inspired by Georgian archive patterns and digitally printed. The team at Historic Royal Palaces have designed authentic textiles using modern techniques and the result is great.
An entire room is devoted to Victoria’s love of art, complete with a miniature opera by I Puritani, her supposed favorite opera. In the same room there is a painting of the Bride von Lammermoor with a scene from the novel of the same name, another of her favorite novels.
From there, it’s on to the room where her 17th birthday ball took place, complete with contemporary music and swirling figures.
The bedroom she was born in has been converted from a dining room and contains a bed that we know she slept in! Next to it is a cradle that has been in Kensington for 200 years. Its Regency design suggests that Victoria slept it, but we don’t know for sure.
Then we head to the room where Victoria’s very first session of the Secret Council was held as Queen, and we are invited to sit around the table as they would have done in their time. The centerpiece of the table is a model of the imposing encounter with the tiny teenage queen, surrounded by aging statesmen.
The temporary exhibition “Victoria: Woman and Crown” is located in the Piggott Gallery and illuminates the private woman behind the public monarch and various facets of her life.
The first object on display is a simple white petticoat from the time of their wedding. The petticoat was bought three years ago, but the curators have been waiting for the 200th anniversary to showcase it in the exhibition.
The dress that Prince Albert designed for his wife for the Great Exhibition is also on display; over time it has faded from a light pink to cream.
Another new acquisition is a portrait of Albert from the time of the couple’s engagement. This is touching the Albert she fell in love with.
There are mourning dresses on display that have never been seen in public before, as well as some etchings that showcase Victoria’s great talent.
There are also lockets on display containing one lock of hair from the other’s engagement. These were traditional tokens of love during the era.
There are artifacts that show Victoria’s continued love for two different places that are close to her heart: Scotland and India. Everyone played a lasting role in her life. Her fascination for India showed a deep cultural and intellectual interest. Scotland was their spiritual home, embodied by Balmoral, which was built by the couple in 1848.
The exhibition ends with a celebration of the poignant anniversary in 1887, rather than the sadness of her death in 1901.
Above all, the exhibitions show us the multifaceted life of a woman, monarch, wife and mother who is still fascinating today.
The exhibition is open to the public on Friday. Get tickets here.