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As well as the iconic portraits of the young Queen Elizabeth, the exhibition will feature life-size images of some of Dorothy’s famous sitters, including Tallulah Bankhead, Cecil Beaton, Noël Coward, Vivien Leigh, Joyce Grenfell and Barbara Cartland. Other works taken in her New York studio in the 1940s and 1950s will include iconic portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and new stars of the 1950s, Yul Brynner and Harry Belafonte.
What better way to ring in International Women’s Day, than by celebrating the life of the first woman to be appointed as the Official Royal Photographer, with the first exhibition of her work in the city where she was born.
Curated by Sisters of the Lens, the exhibition comprises some of Dorothy’s iconic portraits reprinted in a large, contemporary style alongside smaller original prints and ephemera including books, magazines, coins and stamps featuring Dorothy’s work.
“We are thrilled to be working with Hundred Heroines and the National Portrait Gallery to create this exhibition. It is so exciting to be bringing Dorothy Wilding’s photographs to her birthplace and to display her work as one of the most famous portrait photographers of the twentieth century.” (Megan Stevenson, Sisters of the Lens)
The three-month long festivities will also include artist-led workshops, ‘Gloucester Lates’ (late night opening for our young visitors in the city), a pop-up photo-booth and schools activity packs.
Dawn Melville, City Councillor said: “It’s so wonderful to have been told that Dorothy Wilding was born in Gloucester. Her plans to become an actress being thwarted was the country’s gain as she became such an incredible photographer. As a famous society photographer, she must have had an incredibly interesting life and I can’t wait to see more of her work. We all know the now-iconic portraits of Elizabeth II but to have a local exhibition of her other work will be a treat for all as well as extremely informative about the life of this interesting lady.”
Born in Longford, Gloucester, in 1893, Dorothy Wilding wanted to become an actress or a painter. But as she lived with her uncle, who did not encourage these professions, she chose photography. “If they won’t allow me to be an actress, or paint portraits, I’ll do it through the camera instead.”
Dorothy was self-taught, as a photographer, when she bought her first camera at 16, and managed to secure apprenticeships at two leading photographers working as a retoucher before securing an apprenticeship with a leading Bond Street photographer, the American born Marion Neilson. At 21 she had saved £60 to set up her first studio and her works began to appear regularly in the press. She was the first woman to be appointed as the Official Royal Photographer (for the 1937 coronation) and already in great demand when the Dorothy Wilding studio was asked to take the first of the now-iconic portraits of the newly crowned Elizabeth II. Between 1952 and 1971, these formed the basis of The Queen’s image on British postage stamps. Her inimitable style shaped an illustrious career in society portraits, many of which will be on display in Gloucester.
Dorothy’s pioneering work behind the lens paved the way for new generations of female photographers. Hundred Heroines and Sisters of the Lens are honoured to bring her name back into the limelight once more, spotlighting the work and life of this Gloucester Heroine.
Image: Dorothy Wilding, self-portrait. Private Collection.
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