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Prince Albert was an early adopter of portrait photography

Explore Portraiture

      It is perhaps of little surprise that following the invention of photography in 1839, portrait photography became a highly popular personal and commercial subject matter. For the first time, a significant proportion of the population could own a realistic likeness of themselves. Prince Albert (1819-61), in his love of science and technology, embraced the medium. In 1842 he commissioned William Constable (1783-1861) to take his portrait. The resulting photograph is the earliest surviving photographic portrait of a British royal family member. Six years later, Prince Albert commissioned William Edward Kilburn (1818-91) to produce a hand-coloured portrait of him. The photograph is a powerful depiction of the young, determined Prince.

      From this point forward, Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert commissioned and collected a range of portraits of themselves, their family, friends, royal household staff, and the notable and famous people of the period, including actors, artists, politicians and scientists. Following the invention of the carte-de-visite in the late 1850s, the royal couple’s collecting of portrait cartes reflected a wider, worldwide social phenomenon, known as ‘carteomania’. On a more personal level, during their lifetime Prince Albert and Queen Victoria jointly compiled a set of ‘Portraits of Royal Children’ albums, documenting and illustrating their shared love of their children. 

      The range of portrait photographs Queen Victoria and Prince Albert collaboratively collected stands as testament to their shared interest in documenting and representing the people that mattered to them.

      Family portraits

      Albert and Victoria employed photographers to document important family occasions and daily life

      Detail of a photographic portrait of Princess Beatrice
      Royal Children

      In the 1850s, Albert and Victoria began a series of photograph albums documenting their children

      Photograph showing assorted members of the Royal Household keepers and beaters standing around in their uniforms
      Royal Household portraits

      The photographs of the Royal Household reveal the royal family’s high regard for their staff

      Photograph showing a three-quarters length portrait of Sally [Sarah] Bonetta Forbes, facing the viewer, seated and resting her right arm on a cloth-covered table. The portrait was captioned in the 19th century in ink 'Sally Bonetta Forbes' and dated 1856.
      Photographic portraits Volumes I - III

      The ‘Photographic Portraits’ series indicates the individuals the royal couple knew and admired

      Portrait of Henrietta Adela, Duchess of Newcastle
      European portraits

      The royal couple collected and organised numerous cartes-de-visite of European individuals into a series of albums

      Portrait of Horace Wigan (c.1851-85) in the 'Benicia Boy', standing in a fighter's pose
      Portraits of notable people

      Albert and Victoria’s collection of cartes-de-visite of notable people displays their cultural tastes