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Prince Albert used photography to document exhibitions and works of art

Manchester Art Treasures, 1857

Prince Albert’s (1819-61) desire to connect art history with photography is illustrated by his founding involvement in the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition of 1857. Through Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert lending works from the Royal Collection, many private collectors decided to support the exhibition. The exhibition offered a walk-through of art history, composed of 16,000 works of art. Close to 600 photographs were shown by artists including Gustave Le Gray (1820-84), George Washington Wilson (1823-93), Francis Bedford (1816-94) and Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1813-75). At the exhibition, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased a selection of photographs including Rejlander’s ‘Two Ways of Life’ . Albert’s influence extended to how the exhibition was recorded for posterity. A letter in the Royal Archives dated 2 January 1859, from Dr Ernst Becker (1826-88) to the publishers Colnaghi, reflects Prince Albert’s wish that the photographs in the exhibition publication should be sequenced to reflect a chronological history of the development of art.