Royal watercolours depicting life in Victorian Edinburgh to go on display in the Capital for first time

The royal yacht sailing into Granton Harbour in 1844, the sunset over the Capital skyline from St Margaret's Loch in 1862, and Queen Victoria at the unveiling of the memorial to Albert in Charlotte Square in 1876 are just three of the watercolours to be displayed in Edinburgh for the first time as part of a new exhibition in 2021.

Edinburgh with a distant view of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, 1862
Edinburgh with a distant view of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, 1862

The watercolours, collected by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, will take pride of place at the Queen's Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse where the exhibition, Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour, is set to run from March 5 to September 5, 2021.

Described as an “evocative record" of the royal couple's "public and private lives together", the exhibition will feature 80 works of art, a number of which are by Scottish artists.

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Capturing the Queen and her consort during significant moments of their lives together, their travels are also recorded in the works, including trips to the Capital.

The Queen attending the unveiling of the Memorial to the Prince Consort in Edinburgh, 17 August 1876

The first of those visits, in 1842, helped cement the couple's deep affection for Scotland and is represented in the exhibition by William Leighton Leitch's depiction of the royal yacht sailing into Granton Pier, on display for the first time. Receiving a warm welcome on their arrival in the city, Victoria later wrote that, ‘Edinburgh made a great impression upon us; it is quite beautiful and totally unlike anything I have seen’.

During that visit, between official engagements, the couple enjoyed visiting landmarks in and around the city such as Rosslyn Chapel, Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park.

It therefore comes as no surprise to discover another highlight of the exhibition is an atmospheric watercolour depicting ‘Edinburgh with a distant view of the Palace of Holyroodhouse’ by Dunfermline-born painter Waller Hugh Paton. Looking west over St Margaret’s Loch and Holyrood Park, with the Calton Hill and National Monument in the distance, the picture was commissioned by Victoria to capture the view she enjoyed on her approach to the palace from the railway station.

The third Edinburgh scene, this time by artist William Simpson, gives a snapshot of life in the Capital in 1876. Also on display for the first time, it shows the Queen at the unveiling of the memorial to her beloved Albert in Charlotte Square in 1876.

Queen Victoria landing at Granton Pier, 1842

The watercolours ​were all commissioned ​by the royal couple ​to depict the places they visited​ and capture ​moments of significance, from ​the ​christenings and birthday parties of the royal children to glittering court balls​,​​ ​and ​as ​records of the places they lived, including Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Castle.

It’s recorded that the ​Queen and her consort would ​spend evenings organising their watercolours into albums. Following Albert’s death in 1861, the albums took on even greater significance to the widowed Victoria, functioning as both a tangible memory of the time spent with her husband creating them as well as a visual record of their lives together.

Victoria & Albert: Our Lives in Watercolour is at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, 5 March​-​5 September 2021

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