Getty Museum opens A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography

. February 4, 2014

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center presents A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography an exhibition on view February 4–June 8, 2014. With important loans held in the Royal Collection, generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen, shown alongside masterpieces from the Getty Museum, the exhibition displays rare daguerreotypes, private portraits of the royal family, and a selection of prints by early masters such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, and Julia Margaret Cameron.

William Edward Kilburn, [Portrait of Lt. Robert Horsely Cockerell], 1852 - 1855. Daguerreotype, hand-colored. Image: 8.9 x 6.5 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

William Edward Kilburn, [Portrait of Lt. Robert Horsely Cockerell], 1852 – 1855. Daguerreotype, hand-colored. Image: 8.9 x 6.5 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

At the age of 18, Queen Victoria (1819– 1901) ascended the throne of Great Britain and Ireland and was about to turn 20 when the invention of photography was announced—first in Paris, then in London—at the beginning of 1839. The queen and her husband Prince Albert fully embraced the new medium early on, and by 1842 the royal family was collecting photographs. Through their patronage and support, they contributed to the dialogue on photography and were integral to its rise in popularity.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert took an interest in photography in the 1840s, which is remarkable given its limited application and dissemination at the time. The first royal photographic portrait—of Albert—was made by William Constable in 1842. While Victoria enjoyed seeing Albert photographed, she was initially apprehensive about being photographed herself. A pair of key images in the exhibition feature Victoria with her children in 1852, sitting for photographer William Edward Kilburn. In the first portrait, the long exposure time created an image in which Victoria’s eyes were closed. Writing in her diary entry for that day, she described her image as “horrid.” She disliked the portrait so much that she scratched the daguerreotype to remove her face. However two days later the queen repeated the exercise and sat before Kilburn’s camera again, only this time she chose to sit in profile wearing a large brimmed bonnet to hide her face.

For many people, the first opportunity of viewing an actual photograph took place in 1851 at the Great Exhibition of the Industry of Works of All Nations, which opened in London at an event presided over by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Among its 13,000 exhibits were 700 photographs housed in a massive iron and glass structure in Hyde Park. The Crystal Palace, as it was known, was documented in a series of daguerreotypes by John Jabez Edwin Mayall. The royal family would continue to support similar displays of photography that took place during the 1850s; in addition, they became patrons of the Photographic Society of London. Queen Victoria’s interest in the medium was effectively a royal seal of approval and her interest facilitated its growing popularity.

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