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British RoyalsThe Queen

Dorothy Wilding, a groundbreaking royal portrait artist

Photo by Dorothy Wilding, Royal Collection Trust

When Buckingham Palace opens its doors for next summer’s Platinum Jubilee exhibition, the iconic portraits of Queen Elizabeth II taken by the first woman to officially photograph royalty will be on display.

Dorothy Wilding became the first female photographer to take pictures of royalty. Her portraits of the new Queen Elizabeth II marked the first official portraits of The Queen’s reign, but her history with the Royal Family extended back to the 1920s.

Wilding set up a studio in London in the late ‘20s and her first experience with royalty came when Prince George—who later became the Duke of Kent—sat for a portrait in 1928. In 1934, she took the official engagement photos for Prince George and his fiancée Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark.

In 1937, she was the first woman appointed as Official Royal Photographer of the Coronation. She’d previously photographed the then-Duchess of York and combined that image with one of her husband to create a double portrait of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth that was used as a commemorative stamp for their Coronation.

Her studio even photographed Wallis Warfield Simpson in 1935, before the Abdication crisis. Wilding was away from the studio that day, so didn’t actually take the pictures of Wallis, but Edward (then Prince of Wales) was with her, and a photograph from this session inspired the Time cover when she was selected as Woman of the Year in 1936.

In 1952, Wilding photographed Elizabeth II,in a sitting that was used to produce The Queen’s image on coins, stamps, and banknotes. A majority of the stamps were in use in the UK from 1952 to 1967; while in Canada, they were used from 1954 to 1962. Another portrait featured The Queen in a three-quarter pose and was used on stamps until 1971 and became known by the shorthand ‘Wildings.’

Another portrait from this sitting became The Queen’s official portrait and was sent to every British Embassy around the world.

According to the Royal Collection Trust, Wilding’s portraits were iconic because of “the use of a plain black or white backdrop ensures that all attention focuses on the sitter. A total of fifty-nine photographs were taken by Wilding. These show The Queen wearing a variety of gowns designed by Norman Hartnell, and jewellery including the Diamond Diadem and the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara.”

To complement the display of Wilding’s portraits at Buckingham Palace, some of the jewellery worn by The Queen will also be displayed, including the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland tiara.

Platinum Jubilee: The Queen’s Accession will be on display at Buckingham Palace from 22 July to 2 October 2022.

About author

Jess is the Senior Royal Reporter and Editorial Assistant at Royal Central. Her interest in royalty started in her teenage years, coinciding with The Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 and grew from there. She specializes in the British Royal Family (with emphasis on the Cambridges) and the Danish Royal Family, and has provided royal commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the UK and Australia.