The Article „Lingering between Tradition and Innovation: Photographic Portraits of Empress Dowager Cixi“ (link) describes how Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty was advised to have her portrait painted as a means of counteracting negative publicity in the West. It assumes, that

European royal portraiture was highly publicized and worked as the connecting knot between the ruler/sitter and subject/viewer.

Being accustomed to Byzantine portraiture, I saw no reason to question this notion, but my colleagues are highly sceptical thereof.


So I am interested in Queen Victoria as an oft painted Western monarch who is roughly contemporary to Cixi.

Were Queen Victoria’s portraits widely publicised, except on stamps and coins?“

Obviously the royal portrait adorned stamps: enter image description here

As well as coinage: enter image description here

But this article showing many portraits maintains:

Queen Victoria was the most photographed and painted monarch to have ever lived (at that time). A fiercely intelligent woman who acknowledged that her image was instrumental to her relationship with the public, some argued that she was the first royal to grasp the camera's potential power as a 'political weapon'. It is likely that she regarded painting in the same way.

So, were any of her (non-stamp, non-money) portraits widely publicised?

For example at great exhibitions like the one of 1850? I am yet to find concrete information.

  • In light of stamps and coins, did you mean sth like: "So, were any of her photographs (portraits) widely publicised?" Jan 29, 2020 at 13:09
  • @LаngLаngС I mean portraits, painted or photographic, excluding stamps and coins.
    – Ludi
    Jan 29, 2020 at 13:10
  • 1
    Not entirely sure why anyone would go to see a portrait of a woman who was on every stamp and coin (and my impression is that many homes had pictures of her as well, although I can't find evidence of that). Wasn't the market saturated? (see @sempaiscuba's comment about other material goods bearing her portrait.)This article may be relevant, e.g. "Countless official portraits of the queen circulated in the public sphere to symbolize the stature of the monarchy. "
    – MCW
    Jan 29, 2020 at 13:22
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    Are you only interested in painted portraits and photographs, or are other objects carrying her image (such as the chocolate tins issued during the Boer War, for example) also of interest? Jan 29, 2020 at 13:22
  • 1
    While I have no sources, I was under the impression that it became customary to have the Queen's picture hanging in government offices &c.
    – jamesqf
    Jan 29, 2020 at 17:25

1 Answer 1


Yes. After a very short period of mostly private amusement this was widened to massive scope of additional pictures, made for public use.

These photographs were intended to be seen only by members of the Royal family and their immediate circle. In 1860, however, Queen Victoria allowed a series of carte-de-visite portraits of herself and her Consort, taken by J.E. Mayall, to be published. This decision certainly helped to establish the extremely popular fashion for collecting cartes-de-visite in Britain but, perhaps most importantly, modified the relationship between the Monarch and her subjects, drawing them much closer.

Soon after, in 1861, Prince Albert died. Photography was to help the Queen through her long period of grief and mourning, playing a crucial role in her desire to do justice to his memory. As a medium, photography was perfectly adapted to documenting, recollecting and memorialising.

Prince Albert died at the moment when the commercial side of photography was starting to develop rapidly, triggering a conflict of interests that set art against commerce, and idealism against profit. The emergence of photography as a business activity led the vast majority of professional photographers to be considered tradesmen rather than artists.

Queen Victoria continued to commission photographers, but it is clear that from 1862 onwards her use of photography concentrated on her family and on matters of state. The more formal relationship between the Monarch and professional photographer is confirmed by the stiff formality of the portraits commissioned in particular from 1867 onwards, when this work was exclusively in the hands of the leading commercial studios of the day – in contrast to the more informal portraits of the Queen taken by Fenton or Bambridge and the other early photographers personally known to the Monarch.

A new era of photography began in 1888 when the first roll-film camera was introduced onto the market, opening the door to amateur photographers. Several members of the Royal Family took up the new medium, with Princess Alexandra being the most enthusiastic and talented practitioner. Photography was able once again to invade the privacy of the Royal Family as they themselves were the authors of the photographs. For the first time the camera was now able to take truly informal pictures.

enter image description here
The Royal Image and Commercial Photography

Or this

enter image description here
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were also active patrons of photography at a crucial point in its development. Their patronage of the Great Exhibition in 1851 gave millions of visitors their first opportunity to see a photograph, some of which had been lent by the royal couple themselves.
Queen Victoria and photography

She ever more embraced this venue for publicity

enter image description here
- Magnificent Obsession: How Queen Victoria Influenced Photography

Learn why Queen Victoria became an early photography enthusiast, and how she harnessed the new medium to shape her public image.

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