What exactly we see when we look at a queen is now the subject of BOW DOWN: Queens in Art, a historical survey at Smith College. Its prints, drawings, and photographs of women ranging from Marie Antoinette to Queen Victoria suggest that our perception of royal ladies may rely more on how they are depicted than it reflects who they actually are.
This 1900 photograph of Queen Victoria still in her black mourning gown (her husband died in 1861) was taken by an unknown photographer. The monarch was the first to utilize photography to control her public persona as the “grandmother of Europe.” The museum explains, “In 1853, she and her husband, Prince Albert, began to collect photographs, and they soon realized the power of these life-like images. Queen Victoria released portraits of herself and her family, and the public developed a newfound, more personal connection with their queen.” Eleanor Stanley, lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, once exclaimed that “the queen could be bought and sold for a Photograph!”