The painting represents Queen Alexandra kneeling under a canopy held by the Duchesses of Portland, Marlborough, Montrose and Sutherland, about to be anointed by the Archbishop of York.
The commission for the official picture of the Coronation was given to Edwin Abbey (RCIN 404612). However the Danish artist Laurits Tuxen, categorised as ‘Queen Alexandra’s Special Artist to the Coronation’, was found a place in Westminster Abbey by the altar, hidden behind a tomb of Norman knight that gave him an exceptionally close view. Tuxen gives a good account of his trials and tribulations in his letters to his second wife, Frederikke, recounted in his autobiography: ‘The church was nearly filled and there was a brilliance of colour, a facet of a rich and mighty country’s character is exposed on such an occasion. The scene that I was to represent lasted a very short time, the place was overcrowded, though I viewed everything from the back’.
Tuxen relates in a letter that he spent the day following the Coronation sketching in Westminster Abbey. On the 12th August he hurried to Buckingham Palace to oversee photography of the Queen, kneeling, in her Coronation Robes. He struggled to make appointments with the duchesses for sittings and so enlisted the help of the Lord Chamberlain’s Department. Accordingly letters were sent to the four asking them to carry out the Queen’s commands in providing the artist with all possible help. Despite this, Tuxen had to use a photograph of the Duchess of Marlborough in Coronation robes.
Tuxen painted two other pictures of the Coronation: The Coronation of King Edward VII (RCIN 404487) and The Crowning of Queen Alexandra (1844-1925), 1904 (RCIN 404488). He worked on all three paintings at St James’s Palace in mid-June 1903. His attitude to much of this pedestrian work can be gauged in his letter to his wife Frederikke of 11 August, 1902: ‘I consider myself on a treadmill, tramping over acres of gold, which it’s a shame to admit as it’s all so magnificent’. The Regalia, robes and accessories would have been available to Tuxen to incorporate into his pictures. The artist records that the pictures were finished in Copenhagen in first half of 1904; he then travelled to London to deliver them.
A small sketch of the scene, painted on panel, is in Frederiksborg (A 6820); this may have been painted in situ, since the view recorded is from artists’ position by the altar. A larger canvas in the Frederiksborgmuseet (A 6819) records the general design for composition.