Duchess Catherine unveils Victorian photography exhibition

Duchess Catherine Middleton

HRH The Duchess of Cambridge arriving at the National Portrait Gallery. Image by Noah Goodrich, 2018 © Noah Goodrich

LONDON – Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited the National Portrait Gallery, London on Wednesday to unveil a personal selection of portraits that comprise a Patron’s Trail of the major new exhibition “Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography,” which opened today.

The Duchess, a patron of the National Portrait Gallery, selected seven images from the exhibition for which she has written personal captions displayed alongside the photographs.

During her visit, the Duchess took a tour of the “Victorian Giants” exhibition with Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, and Phillip Prodger, curator of the exhibition.

The Duchess, an enthusiastic and skilled amateur photographer, has also written a foreword to the exhibition catalog in which she discusses her interest in 19th-century photography, the subject of her undergraduate thesis while an art history student at the University of St. Andrews. She also explains that photographs of children, which feature predominantly within the exhibition, are of particular interest to her.

The Duchess also points out that Queen Victoria and especially Prince Albert, became enthusiastic patrons of the new art form following its invention in 1839. One of the exhibition’s four featured photography pioneers, Oscar Rejlander, undertook commissions for the Royal Family and works by him have been borrowed for the exhibition from the Royal Collection at Windsor.

“Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography,” which runs through May 20, brings together for the first time portraits by Oscar Rejlander (1813-75), Lewis Carroll (1832-98), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) and Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-65).

Duchess Catherine Middleton

Hallam Tennyson by Lewis Carroll, 1857 © National Portrait Gallery, London; unidentified young woman by Oscar Rejlander, 1863-9 © National Portrait Gallery, London

The four created an unlikely alliance. Rejlander was a Swedish émigré with a mysterious past; Cameron was a middle-aged expatriate from colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka); Carroll was an Oxford academic and writer of fantasy literature; and Lady Clementina was a member of the landed gentry, the child of a Scottish naval hero and a Spanish beauty, 26 years younger. Yet, all three briefly studied under Rejlander, and maintained lasting associations, exchanging ideas about portraiture and narrative. Influenced by historical painting and frequently associated with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, they formed a bridge between the art of the past and the art of the future, standing as true giants in Victorian photography. Their radical attitudes toward photography have informed artistic practice ever since.

The exhibition is the first to examine the relationship between the four ground-breaking artists. Drawn from public and private collections around the world, it features some of the most breath-taking images in photographic history, including many that have not been seen in Britain since they were made.