|Although Queen Victoria had been photographed several times in 1860 and 1861, with the specific intention of issuing the results in the new carte-de-visite format, she had so far always been portrayed primarily as a woman and a wife. For example, the homely and informal portraits of her and Prince Albert by John Mayall, which showed her reading or with children on her lap, gave no indication of her rank. This image, taken by Charles Clifford at Windsor Castle, was the first intended for public distribution to show her as a Queen, in evening dress, diadem and jewels.
It was taken at the specific request of Queen Isabel II of Spain, who had already sent her own portrait in carte format to be included in Queen Victoria’s rapidly growing collection. She even sent her own Court photographer to England to carry out the commission, Charles Clifford, an Englishman resident in Madrid since 1852. Clifford had express instructions to return with a stately photograph of a ruling sovereign looking regal.
According to an article in Photographic News [17 April 1863]: ‘Mr. Clifford was scarcely prepared for this honour; he had, however, recourse to Mr. Ross for assistance, who furnished him with a suitable lens, and in the middle of November, Her Majesty standing some distance within the orangery, the only light reaching her being that passing through the open doors in front, the camera out on the terrace, he succeeded in obtaining a very good negative… The photograph is, considering the circumstances under which it was produced, amazingly perfect.’
Although the photograph was taken on 14 November 1861, the pirating of royal images was so rampant that publication was deliberately delayed until after the passing of a copyright act. The image was eventually entered at Stationers’ Hall on 9 February 1863 by A. Marion and Co. on behalf of Clifford’s widow, Jane.
The portrait was a great success with public and critics alike. Isabel II was delighted with the result of her commission, and Queen Victoria herself liked it so much that she had it copied in oils.
The imposing nature of the regal portrait was short-lived. The following month Prince Albert died and the Queen’s long cult of widowhood began. For many years the public were force-fed the image of their sovereign in heavy widow’s weeds, weighed down by the enormity of her grief.
condition: The print presents a few small imperfections in the area of the background but is otherwise in excellent condition, with very good tonal range. The mount presents a few marks on its reverse and some small abrasions recto in the upper margin but is otherwise clean and crisp.
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