New Publication and Exhibition at Windsor Castle
24 April 2010 – 6 February 2011
A new book and an exhibition at Windsor Castle will celebrate the work of Marcus Adams, who devoted 50 years to photographing children – particularly royal children. The son of the photographer Walton Adams, Marcus Adams created a unique record of two generations of the royal children between 1926 and 1956. He presented a new, relaxed image of royalty, overturning the long tradition of formal royal portraiture. Vintage prints from almost all the royal sittings are among the more than
150 photographs included in the book and the 56 shown in the exhibition, many from the personal collection of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Of his long relationship with the Royal Family, Marcus Adams said, ‘I have had more joy from that family than from any. They are full of fun.’
Marcus Adams (1875-1959) opened his Children’s Studio on Dover Street, London in 1920. He quickly established a reputation as a leading child photographer through his ability to capture the personality of his young sitters, who included the children of the writers A.A. Milne and Agatha Christie. Adams wanted his subjects to feel completely at ease, believing that photography was ‘ninety-five per cent psychology and only five per cent mechanical’. The studio was filled with gadgets and toys, and had no visible equipment or dazzling lights. Instead, Adams built a special camera in the form of a toy cabinet, which he operated remotely while he moved about and talked to the children. As many as 200 photographs would be taken during a typical royal sitting, resulting in at least
50 successful images. A number of the portraits were kept by the Royal Family, some were published in newspapers and magazines, and others appeared on postcards, postage stamps, calendars, commemorative china, and even biscuit tins and jigsaw puzzles.
The Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George VI and
Queen Elizabeth) were frequent visitors to Adams’ studio. Their eldest daughter Princess Elizabeth was first photographed there on 2 December 1926, when she was seven months old. Four weeks later, the Duke and Duchess left on a six-month tour of Australia and New Zealand. During their absence, the Princess was taken to four sittings with Marcus Adams, and the resulting photographs were sent to her parents in the royal dispatch bag. In a particularly delightful set of images the little Princess is shown looking at photographs of the Duke and Duchess. In July 1928 Adams took a series of photographs that have become among the best-known portraits of the young Princess Elizabeth. In one, she adopts a pose reminiscent of the putti in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, in another she is laughing out loud at something beyond the camera.
In June 1931 Marcus Adams produced a number of portraits of Princess Margaret (born on 21 August 1930), both on her own and with her parents and sister. The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret sat for Marcus Adams in February 1939, their last sitting before the outbreak of the Second World War. The resulting portraits include a particularly beautiful image of the two sisters with their arms around each other. During the war years Adams’ commissions decreased dramatically, and at one point The Children’s Studio closed altogether, as so many children had been evacuated from London. In response, Adams built a portable camera and travelled around the country photographing his young sitters at home.
Among the photographs in the book and exhibition is a portrait of the
Royal Family taken just four days after the Duke of York acceded to the throne as King George VI on 11 December 1936. The image projected is one of a close-knit, dependable family, who would conscientiously fulfil every duty that might be demanded of them. At the same sitting Marcus Adams also produced a striking head-and-shoulders portrait of Princess Elizabeth, now heir presumptive to the throne.
Marcus Adams’ association with the Royal Family continued after the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten in 1947 and the birth of their first son Prince Charles in November 1948. Between them, Prince Charles and Princess Anne (born in August 1950) were photographed by Adams thirteen times between 1949 and 1956. During the long Commonwealth tour from November 1953 to May 1954, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were sent a number of Adams’ photographs of their children. In one Prince Charles and Princess Anne are standing beside a measuring stick to show how fast they were growing. Marcus Adams’ final sitting was on 7 February 1958 and he died the following year aged 84.
The book Marcus Adams: Royal Photographer is published in April by Royal Collection Publications (120 pages, over 160 colour illustrations), price £9.95 from Royal Collection shops and www.royalcollection.org.uk
The exhibition Marcus Adams: Royal Photographer is part of a visit to Windsor Castle. Tickets and visitor information: www.royalcollection.org.uk,
+44 (0)20 7766 7304. (An extended version of the exhibition will be shown at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, 25 February – 2 May 2011.)
Admission to Windsor Castle is managed by the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity in England and Wales (1016972) and in Scotland (SCO39772).