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The Main Wing, Pavilion and Terrace, Osborne House.

Osborne was an important setting for early royal photography

Picturing family life at Osborne

Photograph of Dr Ernst Becker, the Prince's tutor and Prince Albert's librarian, sitting between Prince Alfred and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. Becker places his right arm around Prince Alfred's waist. The Prince of Wales stands with his righ

Prince Alfred, Dr Ernst Becker and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales


Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s collecting of photography expanded greatly during the 1850s, in great part due to the activities of Albert’s librarian, Dr Ernst Becker. Becker encouraged the royal couple in their interest and acted as a link between the royal family and commercial studios, manufacturers and societies. By 1853, the Privy Purse was including photography within the listings for ‘Fine Arts’ expenditure. In the same year, the Photographic Society was founded to promote the science and art of photography. Soon afterwards in 1854, Victoria and Albert became its royal patrons.

Correspondence between Becker and his mother illustrates the prolific nature of his work connecting with commercial photographers, dealers and print sellers on Prince Albert’s behalf. Becker's letters also refer to his own practical experiments and advancements in photography, referring to the results he hopes to achieve during summers at Osborne, and making use of a chemistry laboratory he established at the house. For example, in a letter written from Osborne House on 18 March 1855, Becker writes:

Not only that the magnificent collections of the Queen and the Prince grow daily, they also have constantly used photography for the most diverse purposes, wherever they wish to have a true depiction of nature, be it the progress of the new house in Balmoral, the wounded soldiers from the Crimea or a Raphaelesque picture in Rome.

E. Becker, Briefe aus einem Leben im Dienste von Queen Victoria und ihrer Familie, herausgegeben von Lotte Hoffmann-Kuhnt (2015)

Throughout the 1850s, with Becker’s assistance, the royal family regularly commissioned work from photographers such as William Bambridge, Francis Bedford, Roger Fenton, William Kilburn, and George Washington Wilson. However, at this time, the circulation of such photographs was limited to the private sphere of life within the royal household.

The 1850s were a formative decade for photography, and 1857 was a year that marked a gradual shift in the royal image entering the public sphere. In May 1857, Leonida Caldesi photographed the royal family on the terrace at Osborne House. While originally commissioned as a private family photograph, it was later published as an engraving in the Illustrated London News, and subsequently exhibited in the London Photographic Society exhibition of 1858.