Victoria & Thomas Sully

July 9, 2017 at 1:24 pm (books, british royalty, diaries, entertainment, portraits and paintings) (, , )


Yesterday I watched two episodes of the recent series VICTORIA, with Jenna Coleman in the title role. Episode 2 had a session of the Queen sitting to the portraitist Sir James Hayter (Guy Oliver-Watts) and ends with Victoria “needing help” at the unveiling of his resultant portrait.

Coleman as Victoria

This had me running to fetch my copy of Queen Victoria and Thomas Sully, Carrie Rebora Barratt‘s book that includes Sully’s 1837-38 diary of his stay in London with his daughter Blanche. I remember picking up this book in a newly-reopened Oxfam bookshop in Winchester in 2007. Ooh, they had some good titles then!

Not only does it tell about the MANY portraits the poor Queen sat for – be it miniatures; destined for postage stamps and coins; official portraits; commissions (like Sully’s – destined for the U.S.) – the book also has something to say about Hayter as well as his rival Wilkie — whose portrait the Queen did not think “very like”.

_I_ had to chuckle over her comments (culled from Victoria’s diary) about William Charles Ross – who painted at least TWO of the Smith sisters; Fanny Seymour (which I believe I have found, as a photograph of the original) and Maria Seymour – which was sold at auction, and about which Mamma (Mrs Charles Smith) has left us a letter.

Victoria_Sully

Amazon has a “new” copy – but many “near new” can be found in secondhand book markets. Definitely find a copy with its dust jacket.

Notice, too, of a tiny buried citation in the end credits of “Victoria”: that the series is based on the book by A.N. Wilson. The New York Times said of the book in 2014, “One more foray into a well-thumbed archive inevitably risks diminishing returns. In the absence of some new trove of documents, Wilson’s narrative holds few factual surprises. Rather, its novelty lies in psychological analysis, making his a Victoria for the age of reality TV. A celebrity who craves a private life but also courts popularity through new media technologies.”

A TV series is about as close to “reality TV” as one can get – so perhaps as fitting a source as any of the many biographies of Queen Victoria.

For those interested in “tie-ins”, Daisy Goodwin (series creator) has authored a “Victoria” novel, and Helen Rappaport has PBS’s “official companion book” to the TV series.

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