Victoria Revealed show sees Kensington Palace reopen in Royal style

By Catherine Roberts Published: 20 December 2004 Updated: 13 April 2012

A photo of an ornate royal household room featuring a case with a dress inside it
The Mourning Room in Victoria Revealed, the new exhibition at Kensington Palace© Historic Royal Palaces
Exhibition: Victoria Revealed, Kensington Palace, London

Queen Victoria is often seen as a grave figure, but in her young life she was a lively artist and a wilful monarch.

Kensington Palace’s Victoria Revealed is a new exhibition largely inspired by the extensive writings of Queen Victoria. She was a dedicated diarist who detailed the minutes - and sometimes, it seems, seconds - of her life.

The diaries must have been a dream resource for curator Deirdre Murphy, who has managed to create an exhibition that takes the form of a character study.

Throughout Victoria Revealed, quotes from the Queen’s diaries are stencilled on mirrors, drawers and curved along tabletops, effectively revealing Victoria’s character in her own, distinctive voice.

Essentially a walking tour of the upstairs rooms of Kensington Palace, Victoria Revealed explores the space where Victoria spent much of her early life: there is the hall where Victoria first glimpsed Albert; the staircase she ran down when she heard of King William IV’s death; the table at which she signed her first official document as a teenage Queen.

Impressively - until the final room, which feels like an obligatory nod towards this year’s jubilee celebrations - the exhibition doesn’t stray far from Victoria’s experiences within the walls of Kensington Palace.

Visitors begin as Queen Victoria began: in the Red Saloon where an 18-year-old girl’s slightly shaky signature graces a document dated June 20 1837. This was the day Victoria became Victoria regina.

The displayed document is full of men’s names, including Lord Melbourne and the Duke of Wellington. The Privy Council’s tall shadows are projected onto walls of the Red Room, their murmurings played on loop.

It’s intimidating, but young Victoria remained unflustered: “I was not at all nervous – I had the satisfaction of hearing that people were satisfied with what I had done and how I had done it," she said.

The rooms which follow are sparsely decorated, driven less by the objects and more by Queen Victoria’s intimate correspondences, which add depth and colour to the exhibition. There are layers and layers to explore in each room.

This is the beauty of Victoria Revealed: you can take as much or as little from it as you like. The display cabinets are full of hidden drawers that encourage visitors to look a little closer.

Of course, a large chunk of Victoria Revealed recalls Prince Albert through Victoria’s eyes. She declared her wedding day to be “the happiest day of my life!”, and their relationship was floridly romantic.

Both keen artists, they sketched each other, played music together and spent every available moment together. Queen Victoria thought him “excessively handsome” while Albert said she was an “angel”.

It’s easy to be charmed by these declarations of affection. The mood of the exhibition lifts with Victoria’s - so entering the dimly-lit mourning room echoes her emotional blow.

The darkened room contains little more than a single book in a case: Sir Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak. Queen Victoria marked the final page the children read to Prince Albert as he lay dying.

Lying open, the last paragraph reads: “He looks towards the table he had left – the tapers seemed to become hazy and dim as he gazed – he heard the sound of voices...and in a few minutes he was faster asleep than he had ever been in the whole course of his life.”

Victoria would go through the rest of her life in deep mourning, and it is this lasting grief that Victoria is widely remembered for.

The public had little sympathy for her. “What do we pay her for if she won’t work?” say the recorded sound bites in the next room. But Queen Victoria was inconsolable. “My life as a happy one is ended!” she wrote. “The world is gone for me!”

Victoria began and ended her reign in mourning, so it seems fitting for Victoria Revealed to come full circle. The mourning tapestry hung around the edge of the room is just one of the modern art installations scattered through the exhibition.

Each new artwork refreshes our perception of Queen Victoria, the same way the Victoria Revealed exhibition continually refreshes how we view her early life.

More pictures:

A photo of a painting of a Queen inside a circular golden gilded frame
The Queen had a sense of despair about her final days
© Historic Royal Palaces
A photo of a small, ornate golden birdcage being opened by a lilac-coloured glove
Automation birdcage, gilt metal with feathered birds and pearl eggs in nest (19th century)© Historic Royal Palaces, Royal Collection
A photo of a woman installing a Royal dress inside an exhibition case inside a palace
Conservators install Queen Victoria's Privy Council Dress in the Red Saloon© Historic Royal Palaces
A photo of a series of classic white busts of royal figures against a black background
Marble busts of Queen Victoria's children are displayed in the Family Room© Historic Royal Palaces
A photo of two women talking at the top of a staircase in a Royal palace
Curator Deirdre Murphy discussing the exhibition with the Queen at the Palace's Stone Stair© Historic Royal Palaces
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