Lady Lever artwork of the month – January 2008.
‘Portraits’, in the Victorian Visions exhibition which ends on March 16 2008
In the census of 1841 photography was not listed as a profession. A decade later a little over 50 professional photographers were recorded countrywide. By 1861 there were 2879.
This latter increase in the numbers of professional photographers resulted from a craze for collecting small albumen silver prints pasted onto board. They were known as cartes-de-visite and although ‘cartomania’ was a European phenomenon, at the height of their popularity, in this country alone, between three and four million were sold annually. Portraits of friends and family, of course, had a limited circulation, but images of celebrities – such as the literary figures displayed here – were produced, and sold, in large numbers.
Then, as now, images of the Royal Family were most popular, and an 1867 portrait of the Princess of Wales carrying her baby on her back sold 300,000 copies. The craze was helped by the fact that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were early converts to the new medium. They attended the first exhibition of the London Photographic Society in 1854, were keen collectors of cartes-de-visite, and even installed a dark room at Windsor Castle. Victoria was the first monarch to be more frequently photographed than painted.