This sensitively painted enamel shows Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister in 1834 and again in 1835-41, as a young man. Taken from John Hoppner’s “Eton Leaving Portrait” of the Viscount (1796), it shows him as he was about to embark on his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. The dashing future Prime Minister is shown in the sixteenth-century-style dress that was associated with the Etonian festival of “Montem”. This somewhat eccentric Eton custom saw young scholars march in procession to the top of the Montem Mound in Slough (hence the name ad Montem, literally “to the mountain”) where en route they would collect “salt” money for the head boy’s studies at King’s College, Cambridge, and would unfurl a banner at its summit. The enameller has attempted to capture the loose, spontaneous brushwork of Hoppner’s original oil painting.

When Victoria visited the Provost of Eton on 5 June 1838, she was distraught not to have found the Hoppner portrait among the capacious collection...

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This sensitively painted enamel shows Lord Melbourne, Prime Minister in 1834 and again in 1835-41, as a young man. Taken from John Hoppner’s “Eton Leaving Portrait” of the Viscount (1796), it shows him as he was about to embark on his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge. The dashing future Prime Minister is shown in the sixteenth-century-style dress that was associated with the Etonian festival of “Montem”. This somewhat eccentric Eton custom saw young scholars march in procession to the top of the Montem Mound in Slough (hence the name ad Montem, literally “to the mountain”) where en route they would collect “salt” money for the head boy’s studies at King’s College, Cambridge, and would unfurl a banner at its summit. The enameller has attempted to capture the loose, spontaneous brushwork of Hoppner’s original oil painting.

When Victoria visited the Provost of Eton on 5 June 1838, she was distraught not to have found the Hoppner portrait among the capacious collection of Eton Leavers’ portraits; inquiring as to its location, Melbourne found that it had been sold to his brother-in-law, the poet Charles Lamb. Melbourne then presented the portrait to Victoria who decided to keep it for her own collection rather than return it to Eton, finding it, in her own words, ‘in her words ‘a beautiful and spirited picture’. The present enamel would most likely have been taken from the original painting after it entered the Royal Collection in 1841 and may even have been painted to mark the year of his death in 1848.[1]

As Prime Minister, Melbourne’s manner approach was detached and conciliatory (his initial response to the vacancy was to comment ‘I’ll think it’s a damned bore’). However, Melbourne is perhaps best-remembered as the closest friend and confidante of Queen Victoria during her early years on the throne. Melbourne and Victoria had a symbiotic relationship that was to be of profound significance to the two of them. Melbourne was Victoria’s first Prime Minister when she acceded to the throne in 1837. Aged only 18 and unmarried, she was keen to escape the

domineering influence of her mother, the Duchess of Kent. Melbourne, by contrast, lonely and in an equally emotionally-vulnerable state. 1836, the year before Victoria came to the throne, had seen the death of his disabled son Augustus by his first and only wife, Lady Caroline. In many ways, this death embodied his failings as a husband. Melbourne’s marriage had been a notorious disaster. Following several miscarriages – their son was the only child to survive infancy – Caroline had embarked a series of highly public infidelities, which included a passionate affair with Lord Byron, who was in her famous words ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’. Caroline later capitalised on the notoriety that this had earned her by publishing Glenarvon, a kiss-and-tell novel in which many of her high society associates, including Melbourne, found themselves present in unflattering and thinly-disguised fictional form. This seems to have taken its toll on Melbourne who himself began an affair with a married woman, which, although thanks to a generous bribe Melbourne paid the husband was not public knowledge, was no less scandalous given the Viscount’s predilection for what one historian has indelicately termed ‘spanking sessions’.[2]

For Victoria, Melbourne in many ways acted as the father she had lost at a very young age, for Melbourne she Victoria could act both as surrogate child and, in the realm of fantasy, potential wife (despite a forty year age difference). Certainly, the pair became very close, with Melbourne spending as many as five hours a day tutoring and corresponding with his monarch. The present portrait enamel represents a portable version of one of the most highly-prized likenesses of Queen Victoria’s first emotional bedrock. The possession of the original oil marked a compelling expression of the intersection between high politics and intimate friendship.

[1] The painting by Hoppner was on view at the Queen’s gallery in 1844, noted in Mrs. Jameson’s Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London (pub. London 1844)

[2] B. Hilton, A Mad, Bad, & Dangerous People? (Oxford, 2006), p. 500.

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500 Years of British Art