V&A buys more than 200 Landseer letters

An official from the Victoria and Albert Museum holds up one of the more than 200 autographed letters by Queen Victoria's favourite painter, Sir Edwin Landseer, which the museum has acquired. None of the letters have been previously published, writes Marianne Macdonald.

The 233 letters to Landseer's patron and close friend William Wells, and his nephew and heir, Billy Wells, have until now remained in the family and have been unavailable to scholars. They were bought for pounds 12,500. Often illustrated with sketches of horses, dogs and people, the letters describe the tight social circle in which Landseer moved, illuminate the painter's personality and provide a running commentary on shared interests and friends over 22 years.

Landseer was one of the Victorian age's most outstanding painters, although today many view the style and subject matter of his paintings as deplorably sentimental. He was famous for his paintings of animals and was knighted in 1850 aged 48, soon before he modelled the bronze lions at the foot of Nelson's Column.

One of the most interesting aspects of the letters are the comments on Queen Victoria, who Landseer saw frequently. In 1851 he reported to Billy Wells: "I have just returned from a two-hour walk with Her M. She looked so pretty in the bright sunshine."

The correspondence will be held in the National Art Library at the V & A, where it can be viewed by appointment.

Photograph: Tony Buckingham