Attributed to Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1861)
Alfred Edward Chalon painted both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria several times and was given the title Portrait Painter in Water Colour to Her Majesty…
The history surrounding this intriguing and accomplished portrait of Prince Albert, wearing Field-Marshal uniform and displaying the Star of the Garter, has become somewhat of a mystery. It is thought to have been created after Albert’s arrival in England in early 1840, when he was awarded military status of Field-Marshal, but before May 1841 when he was given the Order of the Golden Fleece. Portraits of Albert in Field-Marshal uniform painted after May 1841 show him wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece, without exception.
Albert was born and baptised in Germany at Rosenau Palace on the edge of the Thuringen forests as Franz Karl August Albrecht Immanuel, although his name was quickly anglicised by his family to Albert. His father, the reigning Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, had numerous affairs and following his wife’s flirtations with a Baron whom she later married, Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg was banished from the family home and never saw her children again. Growing up without a mother was problematic for Albert who became a subdued and sensitive child and confessed in his personal writings that he was prone to fits of uncontrollable crying which started following his abandonment.
His marriage to Queen Victoria was encouraged by their uncle King Leopold I of Belgium and Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent who was Leopold’s sister. In May 1836 Duke Ernest of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and his two sons visited Kensington Palace to meet Victoria for the first time. The princes were to visit on several occasions and in October 1839, Victoria wrote to her uncle that ‘Albert’s beauty is most striking, and he so amiable and unaffected – in short, very fascinating: he is excessively admired here.’
Queen Victoria proposed to Albert on 15th October 1839 and they were married the following February. The couple had an exceedingly happy marriage, producing nine children, until Prince Albert’s untimely death. Albert became the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1847 and successfully reformed university education to include more modern subjects including many subjects in the arts and natural sciences. He was president of the Society for the Extinction of Slavery and became president of the Society of Artists in 1843 which led to the arrangement of the first World Fair, the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Alfred Edward Chalon painted both Prince Albert and Queen Victoria several times in 1840 and, following his portrait of Victoria in her State robes making her first official act in the House of Lords in 1847, he was given the title Portrait Painter in Water Colour to Her Majesty. Chalon was born in Geneva to Jean Chalon, a watchmaker, who left Switzerland during political turmoil and moved to England to become a professor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Although Alfred and his brother John were destined by their father to enter a career in trade, the pair instead enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts. Alfred joined the Associated Artists in Watercolours before being elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1812 and then an Academician from 1816.
During Queen Victoria’s reign, Chalon became an increasingly popular artist at court and amongst his sitters were Byron’s daughter Ada, Countess of Lovelace, Mrs Peter DeWint and Mme Vestris, the famous actress and opera singer.
The head-type of this portrait of Albert dressed in Field-Marshal uniform without the Order of the Golden Fleece, can also be seen in an inlaid miniature in the Royal Collection, also thought to date from 1840.
We are grateful to Vanessa Remington, Senior Curator of Paintings at the Royal Collection for her assistance when cataloguing this work.
A. C. Benson and Viscount Esher ed., The Letters of Queen Victoria, (London, 1908), p.188.
V. Remington, Victorian Miniatures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, vol. 2 (London, 2010), pp.575-6.