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Prince Albert was an early adopter of portrait photography

Family portraits

From the 1850s, Prince Albert (1819-61) and Queen Victoria (1819-1901) employed and commissioned photographers on a regular basis to document important familial occasions and daily life. The photographers regularly employed include Roger Fenton (1819-69), Leonida Caldesi (1822-91) and Dr Ernst Becker (1826-88). Initially, these portraits were purely for private consumption. However, the royal family quickly realised the possibilities of the new medium to promote and disperse an image of the royal family, and forge a greater connection with the population. In 1857, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gave permission for a portrait of the royal family, taken by Caldesi in Osborne, to be published as an etching. The following year the photograph was displayed at the Photographic Society of Scotland exhibition in Edinburgh, the first time a portrait of the royal family was exhibited. Two years later, in 1860, Queen Victoria gave permission to J J Mayall (1813-1901) to publish and sell photographs of her and Prince Albert as cartes-de-visite. The photographs were a sensation. For the first time, the public could own a realistic, photographic image of their sovereign. Understandably, the cartes sold in the thousands.

The photographs of the royal family commissioned and collected by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria provides a sense of their personal life, in addition to their use of photography to present a public image.