03 May 2015
The Historical Group visited the Royal Collection Trust’s photograph collection at Windsor Castle on Tuesday, 28 May 2015. Two parties were guided around the collection by senior curator of photographs Sophie Gordon and her three colleagues.
Sophie introduced the collection by saying that it consisted of around 450,000 photographs dating from the 1840s and coming up the present day. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were introduced to photography in 1839 and the first photograph of Prince Albert is a daguerreotype and dates from 1842. It was taken by William Constable of Brighton.
From the 1840s Victoria and Albert began to acquire photographs and received them as gifts. By the 1850s Dr Becker who worked for the royal household began to play an important role in acting as a conduit between the world of photography and the the royal family. Becker was a member of the Photographic Society and was key in establishing a relationship between the new Society and its members. Roger Fenton showed Victoria and Albert around the Society’s first exhibition early in 1854.
The early parts of the collection consists of two distinct strands. Firstly, there are photographs collected by Albert which show photography as art and includes topography and genre, as well as showing its use a cataloguing and documentary tool. The second are the photographs Victoria collected which tend to show portraits of people she knew, family, celebrities and the royal household and this interest continued up to her death in 1901.
Victoria and Albert’s children were born in to a photographic age and several were taught photography and a number became proficient amateur photographers in their own right. Sophie noted that the collection is ‘eclectic’ in what it holds. It consists of photographs that the royal family wanted to acquire or were given, and later those photographs taken by family members.
Particular strengths include groups of photographs from Edward VII, Queen Alexandra, George V and Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. New material is added after the death of a family member.
The collection is carefully housed across three climatically controlled rooms as well as some off-site storage. It is now fully catalogued and it is open to researchers by appointment.
Following the tour the group was able to examine and handle highlights from the collection. Both tours agreed that it was a very special experience and that quality of the photographs exceeded anything that they had seen elsewhere.
In thanking Sophie and her colleagues at the end of the afternoon tour Michael Pritchard noted the enduring relationship between the royal family and the Society and spoke of a joint project that would further develop this, details of which would be announced later in the year.
You can find out more about the collection here: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/about/photographs
Photographs here are by Michael Pritchard FRPS. You can see more photographs from the visit in a gallery here and a second selection courtesy of Walter Benzie ARPS here