At this point the world awaits the birth of Prince William and Princess Kate’s baby and heir heir to the British throne. The news coverage, or more accurately non-news coverage is endless. So I got to wondering whether there was a first photograph of Queen Victoria with with a baby Edward, Prince of Wales.
So far I have not been able to find one. But the story doesn’t end there. Queen Victoria’s first child Alice Maud Mary was born in 1843. The earliest known photograph, a calotype, of Queen Victoria was taken some time between 1844 and 1845. It is shown in Figure 1 and is, in fact, a joint portrait of the queen with the princess royal, who would at the time have been between one and two years old. The image is beautiful. It has that soft wistful quality that is typical of calotypes and is beautifully toned. While the custom of the day was to show rigid faces there remains something very endearing both about the queen gesture. the way her arm holds her daughter, and the little doll. The princess would certainly rather be playing!
There is also a wonderful image from May 26, 1857 by Caldesi and Montecchi, showing the Queen and Prince Albert with all of their nine children. This is shown in Figure 2. From left to right is: Alice, Arthur (later Duke of Connaught), The Prince Consort (Albert), The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), Leopold (later Duke of Albany, in front of the Prince of Wales), Louise, Queen Victoria with Beatrice, Alfred (later Duke of Edinburgh), The Princess Royal (Victoria) and Helena. Again this appears to be a very gloom group. However, there are some very charming aspects to this photograph. The fact that everyone is not looking the camera, indeed Prince Albert is shown in profile, and the reflections in the window lend an informality, an almost candid quality, to the picture.
These images are further examples of the precious glimpses that we get of life in the nineteenth century during the first twenty years of photography. In some respects the sitters seem not quite sure how to deal with this new spontaneous medium. Many things, like photography, were evolving rapidly. Perhaps that is the most important lesson that we can learn from these pictures and think about when the new royal baby is born, indeed when any new baby comes into the world. There was a time when for Princess Alice in the first figure and for Princess Beatrice in the second that the world was new and the possibilities infinite.