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Duchess of Cambridge selects Patron's Trail for Victorian Giants

The Duchess of Cambridge is to select photographs from the National Portrait Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography as part of a Patron’s trail.The Duchess will visit the exhibition on the evening of Wednesday 28 February, prior to its opening on Thursday 1 March.

As Patron of the National Portrait Gallery since 2012 and an enthusiastic, amateur photographer, The Duchess has written a foreword to the exhibition catalogue in which she discusses her interest in nineteenth-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. This is the first exhibition at the Gallery to include a Patron’s trail in which The Duchess will select a number of portraits, which will be displayed with additional information labels that will be written by Her Royal Highness.

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 will show 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). 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 towards photography have informed artistic practice ever since.

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

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography will feature the work of Swedish-born ‘Father of Photoshop’ Oscar Rejlander and will include the finest surviving print of his famous picture Two Ways of Life (1856-7), an example of his pioneering technique of combining several negatives to create a single final image. Constructed from over thirty separate negatives, Two Ways of Life was so large that it had to be printed on two sheets of paper joined together.

An album of photographs by Rejlander purchased by the National Portrait Gallery following an export bar in 2015 will also go on display together with other treasures from the Gallery’s world-famous holdings of Rejlander, Cameron and Carroll, which for conservation reasons are rarely on view. The exhibition will also include works by Clementina Hawarden, a closely associated photographer; the first major showing of her work since the exhibition Lady Hawarden at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 1990.

Lewis Carroll’s photographs of Alice Liddell, his muse for Alice in Wonderland, are among the most beloved photographs of the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection. Less well known are the photographs made of Alice years later, showing her as an adult. The exhibition will bring together these works for the first time.

Visitors will be able to see how each photographer approached the same subject; both Cameron and Rejlander photographed the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the scientist Charles Darwin, and Carroll and Cameron photographed the actress, Ellen Terry. The exhibition will also include the famous studies of human emotion that Rejlander made for Darwin, on loan from the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University Library.

Lenders to the exhibition include the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin; the Hulton Archive, Getty Images; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Munich Stadtmuseum; the Royal Collection; Tate; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Wilson Centre for Photography.

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography will include portraits of sitters such as Charles Darwin, Alice Liddell, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Carlyle, George Frederick Watts, Ellen Terry and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘The National Portrait Gallery has one of the finest holdings of Victorian photographs in the world. We are delighted that our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, has supported this exhibition in such a direct and personal manner, given her longstanding interest in this material.  As well as some of the Gallery’s rarely seen treasures, such as the original negative of one of Lewis Carroll’s portraits of Alice Liddell and images of Alice and her siblings being displayed for the first time, this exhibition will be a rare opportunity to see the works of all four of these highly innovative and influential artists.’

Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London, and curator of Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography, says: ‘When people think of Victorian photography, they sometimes think of stiff, fusty portraits of women in crinoline dresses, and men in bowler hats. Victorian Giants is anything but. Here visitors can see the birth of an idea – raw, edgy, experimental — the Victorian avant-garde, not just in photography, but in art writ large. The works of Cameron, Carroll, Hawarden and Rejlander forever changed thinking about photography and its expressive power. These are pictures that inspire and delight. And this is a show that lays bare the unrivalled creative energy, and optimism, that came with the birth of new ways of seeing.’

Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography 
1 March –20 May 2018, at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Tickets with donation: Full price £12 / Concessions £10.50
Tickets without donation Full price £10 / Concessions £8.50 (Free for Members and Patrons)

It will tour to Millennium Gallery, Sheffield, from 30 June – 23 Sept 2018

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