Exhibit of the Week: Portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales

Portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales  in the Scarborough Collections.
Portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales in the Scarborough Collections.

Next time you use the gorgeously fanciful little footbridge which soars over Vernon Road to connect the gardens behind Londesborough Lodge to Cliff Bridge Terrace, pause and reflect on the fact that you are walking in the footsteps of royalty.

The bridge was built by the first Earl of Londesborough at some point in the 1860s, to give private access from Londesborough Lodge, his Scarborough villa on The Crescent, to the Spa.

The Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria and later King Edward VII, visited his friend Lord Londesborough three times, in 1869, 1870 and 1871, and it’s believed that the Earl literally laid out the red carpet for his guest, unfurling nearly a mile of the stuff through the gardens and across the footbridge and Spa Bridge to the Spa.

On his third visit, the Prince of Wales brought his wife Queen Alexandra – which may have rather cramped his style, the future monarch being a notorious philanderer throughout his life.

That life, however, was very nearly cut short during that visit in November 1871, when he contracted typhoid fever, the disease which was believed to have killed his father Prince Albert ten years earlier.

Queen Victoria’s passion for her late husband and royal consort is well documented, so it’s not surprising that after Bertie, as he was known to the family, recovered she forbade him to visit Scarborough again. Another member of the Royal party that November was not so fortunate – Lord Chesterfield died of the disease.

At some point during one of those trips to Scarborough, though, the Prince of Wales paid a visit to the studio of Oliver Sarony, one of the foremost society photographers of the day.

The Canadian-born photographer’s studio, on Sarony Square (the site of which is now the car park next to St Martin’s Church) must have been something to behold – it had 98 rooms, many of them themed, and was run by over 100 staff. It’s estimated that at his death in 1879, his company’s turnover for a three-month season was £20,000 – the equivalent of over £2.2m today.

Sarony was a remarkable businessman, constantly innovating in the field of photography, and one of his business streams was to produce photographic portraits for artists to copy as paintings.

Our exhibit today, from the Scarborough Collections, is a portrait of the Prince of Wales in shooting garb – tweedy plus-fours, natty little homburg, shotgun and habitual cigar in hand: the rather louche prince reputedly smoked 20 cigarettes and 12 cigars a day, which may explain why he suffered in later life with both cancer and bronchitis.

It’s attributed to the artist Thomas Jones Barker (1815–1882), a portraitist who in later life was to enjoy some acclaim as a painter of military scenes.

But it’s undoubtedly based on a photograph by Sarony which is now in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery in London – take a look at it here for comparison: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw249253/King-Edward-VII

The NPG describes the photograph as a carte-de-visite, a small albumen photograph printed on thin paper and mounted on thicker card which seems to have been a 19th century precursor of today’s ‘trading cards’ – they prompted a Victorian passion which became known as ‘cardomania’, with cards being collected and displayed in albums. Perhaps a Sarony card featuring the Prince of Wales would have had the collectible status that a rare Match Attax of Steven Gerrard would have today.

The portrait of Edward, Prince of Wales, is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or 01723 384510.