L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert after a Drawing Room, 11 May 1854 - photographs by Roger Fenton

The Queen is wearing different earrings in this photograph. She's wearing the "Turkish"earrings (and necklace) she wore at her wedding.*
* Coincidentally, thanks to the misinformation so rampant on the Internet, the Queen is almost
always said to be dressed for her wedding in these images. Uninformed Pinterest "pinners"
and amateur historians apparently seem to think that a veil - always - signifies a wedding.


The bracelet that the Queen is wearing on her wright wrist in these pictures is best seen in the last. At around  the time of the couple's marriage in 1839 their favorite miniaturist, Sir William Ross, painted the profile portrait of the Prince. It immediately became one of his wife's favorite images of her beloved spouse, and she had a copy made and set into the diamond bracelet seen above. She wore it frequently through the rest of her life, and it's to be seen in many of her early portraits and later photographs.

Portrait by John Partridge, 1840.
Portrait by Sir William Ross (?), circa 1840-1.
Detail of above.
Portrait by Stephen Catterson Smith the Elder, 1854 (or 1849).
Lithograph of the above painting. (The Queen is also wearing the "Oriental Circlet" designed by Prince Albert; the opals with which it was
set were later replaced with rubies by Queen Alexandra and it would become one of the favorite tiaras of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.)
Photograph by Gustav William Henry Mullins, 1893.


Roger Fenton (28 March 1819, Rochdale, Lancashire – 8 August 1869, Potter's Bar, Hertfordshire), pioneering British photographer, best known for his early portraits of the British royal family and images of the Crimean War. His grandfather was a wealthy cotton manufacturer and banker, his father a banker and Member of Parliament. He graduated from Oxford in 1840 with a "first class" Bachelor of Arts degree, and went on to read law at University College - sporadically; he did not qualify as a solicitor until 1847 - but was much more interested in becoming a painter. He studied in Paris and London and in 1849, 1850 and 1851 he exhibited paintings in the annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy. But after visiting the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and being greatly impressed by the photography on display there, he took up that discipline and again went to Paris to study the most up to date techniques. By the next year he was exhibiting his work, traveling abroad, and calling for the establishment of a photographic society; a year later the Photographic Society was founded, with Fenton as founder and first Secretary. It later became the Royal Photographic Society under the patronage of Prince Albert.

In 1854, at the urging of friends and patrons - including the Prince - Fenton traveled to the Crimea where war was raging. He spent three months there, enduring blazing heat, several broken ribs from a fall, and cholera, and he produced more than 350 usable large format negatives, extremely valuable historical and artistic documents. The images were widely shown in England and France. From a wealthy background he wasn't discouraged by his work's lack of commercial success. But he considered himself an artist and was by disheartened by photography's increasing accessibility to amateurs and by its low regard, then though of as a trade rather than art form. In 1863, Fenton sold his equipment and returned to the law as a barrister. He died six years later after a brief illness. He was only fifty years old.


And, finally, as an example of the sometimes awkward artistic response to the rapid advent of photography in the mid-nineteenth century, this is a hand-colored print of Fenton's portrait, the first image in this post. Artist Edward Henry Corbould has transformed the photograph into a small painting, adding background features and altering details of the Queen's gown, the pedestal, etc. This sort of hybrid - gouache and/or watercolor over a photographic print - was very popular at the time. (You can see some other examples of this practice in my post on the comtesse de Castiglione.)


  1. Anybody that read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina-and payed attention when he's describing Anna's splendor at that ball after she met Vronsky-knows that the fashion of the day dictated wearing veils at formal gatherings. We can also see that truly beautiful Sissi of Autria wearing hers...
    Prince Albert family's good looks were legendary. His mother was beautiful and his uncle, Leopold of Belgium, widower of George III's granddaughter, the Princess of Wales, was the handsomest man of his time.
    Thank you, Stephen for always showing us such beautiful paintings and photographs. You lead us into knowledge all the time.

    1. Aw, how sweet of you to say, Maria. Thank you. And what a - thrill - for me to have such knowledgeable readers of this blog, who add so much by their kind - and informed! - comments. : )