The images were produced by Antoine Jean François Claudet. Born in France in 1797, Claudet had come to London as a glass merchant in 1827 before switching to producing daguerreotypes, learning the process from Monsieur Daguerre himself. At first based near Trafalgar Square and then Regents Park, in 1851 Claudet established a lavish photo studio, complete with stuffed parrot, at 107 Regent Street, not far from Piccadilly Circus. In the same year Claudet showed a number of inventions at the Great Exhibition as well as an intriguing ‘image of the moon produced during a clear night’ (you must check out this most wonderful example of Claudet’s lunar photography).
Our stereoscopic photographs might have been taken in April 1854, when Claudet wrote in a letter that he had had ‘the honour to be commanded by her Majesty to take my daguerreotype apparatus to Buckingham Palace in order to take her portrait for the stereoscope and this morning h[er] M[ajesty] has given me a sitting and I have succeeded to take four good portraits of her’. It is believed that this hand-tinted photograph of the Queen in evening gown, garter sash and a profusion of pearls and other jewellery was one of the portraits produced on that occasion.
I cannot quite see the Queen letting Claudet wait while she changed from outdoor clothes to evening attire accompanied by a rather elaborate coiffure – or vice versa. I am also wondering whether the Queen’s ruffled skirt was held out by a crinoline, which would suggest a date after 1854. Claudet was appointed ‘Royal-Photographer-in-Ordinary’ in 1853 and presumably had several occasions to photograph his royal client before his death in 1867. So maybe our photographs were taken another time? I am rather certain, however, that the Queen is sitting in a Buckingham Palace chair.
Let us have a closer look at the Queen’s clothes. Her skirt seems to incorporate deep ruffles, made of a light-coloured fabric, presumably silk, with a dark grid or check pattern, possibly overlayed with dark lace towards the edge. Check patterns were popular in the 1850s and the Queen was depicted wearing at least one other gown in that fashion. Her dress in our stereoscopic photographs reminds me a little of this example in our collection. Maybe the Queen’s gown also incorporated pagoda sleeves? Whatever sleeve fashion she adopted, we can only catch a glimpse of what is probably a fine cotton undersleeve gathered at the wrist and edged with lace, providing the background for the display of a charm bracelet.