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Dr Ernst Becker (1826–88)

Born in Darmstadt and educated in Edinburgh, Dr Ernst Becker took up his appointment as librarian to Prince Albert and assistant tutor to the young princes in May 1851. Becker learnt photography in March 1852 from Captain Alexander de Courcy Scott, so that he could teach Prince Albert who showed interest in the new medium. Becker’s photographs show an astute handling of the medium,  a talent for composition as well as his intimate, personal access to members of the royal family. Becker encouraged and facilitated the Royal Family’s interest in photography and acted on their behalf to purchase cameras, lenses, chemicals and all the necessary equipment. Under his tutorship the young Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred became proficient and talented photographers.

Becker was a founding member of the Photographic Society of London in 1853. He regularly attended meetings and his presence ensured there was an informal, but direct, channel of communication between the Society and Prince Albert. In 1859 he left the service of Prince Albert and he became Treasurer to Alice, Princess Louis of Hesse in 1862.

As Prince Albert’s Librarian, Becker took a leading role in the compilation of the Raphael Collection, which was begun in 1853. A large body of correspondence between Becker and private collectors, representatives of public institutions, photographers, print dealers, dignitaries and ambassadors worldwide survives in the Royal Archives, and attests to the enormity of Albert’s enterprise to collect together prints and photographs reproducing all works thought by or connected to Raphael in the mid-nineteenth century.