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Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1813–75)

Prince Albert admired and collected a variety of works by the Swedish-born photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander. Studying painting in Rome, Rejlander’s early career involved copying Old Masters and painting portraits. He was taught photography by Nicolaas Henneman (1813–98), assistant to William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–77), and began taking portraits around  1854. The following year he won a prize medal at the Paris Exposition of 1855.

Like the Prince, Rejlander held a strong appreciation of Renaissance artists, including Raphael. The Prince acquired three copies of Rejlander’s most important allegorical work, The Two Ways of Life (1857). It was based on the composition of Raphael’s The School of Athens (1509–11), illustrating scenes of ‘industry’ and ‘dissipation’, representing the choice faced by man in Victorian England.  Prince Albert later commissioned Rejlander to copy Raphael’s study entitled Mantua and provide photographic copies of the result. This work was intended for the Raphael Collection.

In 1869, long after the Prince’s death in 1861, the queen took the unprecedented step of ordering additional and duplicate copies of Rejlander’s works. It is presumed that these prints were added to the collection so as to preserve continuity, and at the same time to serve as a memorial to the Prince’s admiration for Rejlander.