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Placing Osborne in the History of Early Photography

Osborne was an important setting for early royal photography

Julia Margaret Cameron

Arguably the most famous photographer associated with the Isle of Wight is Julia Margaret Cameron, who moved to Freshwater in 1860, creating her home at Dimbola Lodge. Despite Cameron’s close physical proximity to Osborne House, there is no known surviving primary evidence in the Royal Archives to suggest that Queen Victoria had direct personal contact with Cameron, or that they met. In Cameron’s autobiographical writings, she stated that she had photographed the Princess Royal and her husband Prince Frederick William of Prussia, yet no photographs from this sitting survive. 

Privy Purse records show that Queen Victoria purchased Cameron’s photograph Paul and Virginia (1864). This photograph would have held personal significance, as in 1851 Prince Albert had given the Queen a marble sculpture of Paul and Virginia by Guillaume Geefs, purchased at the Great Exhibition. Queen Victoria also acquired Whisper of the Muse (1865), a portrait of G.F. Watts. Neither of these two prints remain in the Royal Collection, but both represent an important purchase at a formative point in Cameron’s career. 

Later Queen Victoria also acquired portraits of Clinton Parry, Thomas Carlyle, George Frederic Watts, Herbert Wilson and Alfred Tennyson. Cameron’s style of portraiture was controversial and frequently criticised in her lifetime, in polar opposition to the commercial studio style of photographers such as Hughes, Mayall and Silvy for example. These acquisitions were a bold and ground-breaking example of royal patronage by Queen Victoria – which recalls the innovative spirit of her very early collecting with Albert during the early 1850s.