The term Victorian is often used to pejoratively describe art and culture from most of the nineteenth century. In reality, Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901) was dynamic and revealed connective issues and trends shared between Great Britain and its former colony and developing country, the United States of America. This exhibition features the monumental influences and translates the complex decorative elements which typify art in the age of Queen Victoria.
Britain, years earlier, had suffered the instability and insanity of George III (r. 1760–1820), then the folly of Victoria’s uncles, George IV (r. 1820–30) and William IV (r. 1830–37). Not long after winning independence from Britain, Americans were sympathetic to the young Victoria as she ascended the throne. Victoria’s coronation was a fresh start for Anglo-American relations—her youth, a metaphor for the possibilities of our fledgling country.
The charm of youth and innocence translated into appreciation for the unspoiled and awe-inspiring American landscape, sometimes presented with storms on the horizon, foretelling the trials ahead for democracy.
The Queen’s 1840 marriage to her cousin, Prince Albert, and their nine children modeled sentimentality and devotion to family which sparked a romantic trend visible throughout her life. Her expression of grief at her husband’s loss would find horrific echoes in the United States as the Civil War divided the country and exposed egregious injustice.
The bright future of an eighteen-year-old queen, the leadership of a young woman, transformed the world in practical terms—an industrial revolution, unbridled expansion, and social shifts inventing an upwardly mobile middle class—that would reinvent world relations and America’s global outlook.