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To be explored through a major new digitisation project

Prince Albert's photographic collection

Hand-coloured daguerreotype of Prince Albert, seated and facing partly right. His hands rest on his lap and he is wearing a beige jacket and a dark brown waistcoat. The background is painted blue with white clouds and the daguerreotype is mounted under gl

Prince Albert (1819-1861) ©

In photography, Prince Albert found an invention and medium that combined his love of art, science and technology in a unique visual product. He was captivated by the new medium and purchased numerous photographs, commissioned a variety of practicing photographers and encouraged the use of photography as a means of illustration and record keeping. Through his active support and patronage, Prince Albert played an integral role in the promotion and advancement of photography during the medium's infancy.

Prince Albert's entry into British society coincided with the introduction and development of photography in the country. The invention of photography is pinpointed to 1839, the year Louis Daguerre's daguerreotype process was announced in Paris. In September of the same year, the process was brought to Britain. It was also the year that Prince Albert and Queen Victoria became engaged, establishing the prince's future role in Britain. By 1841, various photographic studios were opening across Britain and public recognition of the medium was growing. During a stay in Brighton in 1842, Prince Albert attended the photographic studio of William Constable. The resulting portrait is the earliest surviving photograph of a royal family member. Despite this early foray into photography, it was not until the 1850s that Prince Albert and Queen Victoria began to truly invest time and money into commissioning and purchasing photographs. Their combined approach to collecting laid the foundation of the Photographs Collection and guided the collecting interests of future generations of the Royal Family.

The royal couple's collecting during the 1850s and 1860s corresponds with a period considered the 'golden age of photography', a time of significant experimentation, expansion and exhibition of photography. These advances reflect the overall attitude to progress and innovation in Britain at the time, something that was embodied in the 1851 Great Exhibition. Jointly organised by Prince Albert and Henry Cole, among the exhibits on display were 700 photographs organised into two classes, 'Philosophical Instruments and Processes' and 'Fine Art'. For many visitors, this was the first time they had seen a photograph.

Daguerreotype of a full length portrait of Jenny Lind standing beside a piano, facing away from the camera, with her head and upper body turned left towards the camera. Her right hand rests on the top of the piano and her left hand is touching the ke

Jenny Lind (1820-1887) ©

The increased awareness and publicity surrounding photography brought into question its nature and purpose: was it an art, or a science, or both? In response, the Photographic Society was established in London in 1853 with the aim of raising the status of photography, acknowledging its unique quality as both a science and art form. In the same year, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria became patrons of the Society. Eager to assist, Prince Albert attended Society meetings and exhibitions and purchased works by photographers associated with the Society to add to his personal collection. He also supported research by the Photographic Society, including contributing £50 to investigate the causes of the fading of photographs, which was a particular personal concern. After Prince Albert's death, more stable carbon copies of earlier prints in his collection were often produced.

Prince Albert's collection of photographs reveals his unique views and beliefs surrounding photography. He perceived and appreciated the medium's multifaceted nature: as both an art form to capture images of his family, surroundings and contemporary events and as a device to record works of art, technology and science for future study and posterity. As a result, his collection is diverse and extensive and contains works by many pioneering nineteenth-century photographers including Roger Fenton, Oscar Gustav Rejlander, Dr Hugh Welch Diamond, George Washington Wilson and Charles Thurston Thompson. The collection stands as testament to Prince Albert's intellectual investment, belief and continued fascination with photography throughout his life.    

Selected photographs from the collection

Charles Thurston Thompson (1816-68)

A Quiet Moment

Wilson & Hay (active c.1850-60)

The New Castle at Balmoral

William Constable (1783-1861)

Prince Albert (1819-1861)

Dr Hugh Welch Diamond (1809-86)

Study of young boy

After? Édouard Baldus (1813-89)

Machine du Train Royal

Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1814-75)

'Non Angeli sed Angli'

Leonida Caldesi (1823-91)

The Royal Family at Osborne