Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Portrait of Queen Victoria

From time to time, I continue to investigate (just for fun) the mysterious portrait of a young Queen Victoria, inherited by my friend Sheridan. When I last visited England, a year and a half ago, I dropped in at an arts school in the London suburb of Hampstead, known today as the Institute, which I mistook for the Hampstead Garden Suburb School of Arts and Crafts, whose former principal was Ernest Heath [1867-1945]. The director of the Institute told me that the two schools had nothing in common, and he suggested that I contact the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington concerning Sheridan's plaque. Before I could do so, I needed to set down clearly, in the form of a website, my speculations concerning the plaque. And that's what I've been doing over the last few days.

[Click the image to visit my new website.]

Before building this website and contacting the museum (which I intend to do immediately), I had to get over an amusing obstacle, in the form of a legend that arose in Sheridan's family context in Australia. According to this legend, one of Sheridan's female ancestors was an adolescent friend of Victoria, and the ceramic plaque was a personal gift to her from the queen, maybe at the time of the marriage of Victoria and Albert. To evaluate this legend, which is surely false, I was helped greatly (in a negative sense) by an excellent study of Victoria's adolescence written recently by a US professor of English from Texas, Lynne Vallone.

It's a fascinating detective exercise to examine a certain situation, constructed around a legend, in order to separate the factual wheat from the mythical chaff. In the case of Sheridan's legend about a friendship between two adolescent girls, one of whom was a commoner and the other a princess, the emerging truth would appear to be far more gratifying. My conclusions are outlined in the new website. I'm convinced that Sheridan's ancestors in London were related to a celebrated line of creators who were appointed engravers and painters to British monarchs, including Victoria. That's more interesting than having an ancestor who was merely a teenage friend or bridesmaid of the queen...

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