Friday, 19 May 2017

Tracking down a royal orchid bouquet

Colourised photo of Queen Victoria.
It is full of qurky errors: see below
As wedding fans ponder the design of Ms Markle's dress, will they also be thinking about the bouquet? 

In the Victorian age, orchids represented power, wealth, glamour, exoticism ... And Queen Victoria knew what she was about.

In a history of the Veitch seed merchants, botanical writer Sue Shepard waxes lyrical about the most magnificent bouquet people had ever seen, made of literally hundreds of orchids.

She notes that it was in honour of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and was composed of every variety of orchid ‘produced with Her Majesty's dominions’. Sadly, Ms Shepard did not reference this, but after some digging around, I found a fascinating article in the Sydney Mail of August 14, 1897, of all places, entitled ‘A Royal Bouquet’. This was for the Diamond Jubilee, ten years later, and this bouquet outdid the 1887 with style. It was a horticultural marvel. The golden jubilee bouquet had 50,000 blooms, according to the article, but the 1897 was even larger and better quality.
‘It is impossible to attempt the description in detail of the many thousands of orchids used in this, the most superb bouquet ever seen, endless spikes of all that is best and rarest from her Majesty’s dominion being used, together with almost priceless blossoms of the hybridist’s art raised in this country since our Queen’s accession, many of them unique and of great value, among the choicest varieties being Cattleya Empress of India, C. Our Queen, and C. Victoria Regina, which received awards at the meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society of the 15th instant.’ 

The false colorised image of Queen Victoria based on black and white photograph taken near the time of her Golden Jubilee over-painted with inaccurate hues. The dress should be black with white lace trimmings, not purple. The jewelry, which is of diamonds, has been painted gold by mistake. She is wearing the small diamond crown which is almost entirely diamonds: it contains very little gold. The orders on her left shoulder are also wrong: the most visible is the badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert, which has a white ribbon not a blue one, and should be surrounded by diamonds not gold. Oops.

Note the orchid bouquets carried by Queen Kapiolani and Crown Princess Liliuokalani of Hawaii at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, 1887. Ruby Hasegawa Lowe, Robin Yoko Racoma (1993) Liliʻuokalani, Kamehameha Schools Press. Credited to Bishop Museum. 

By Pamela Kelt, author of The Lost Orchid.

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