Dorothy Wilding

(1893 – 1976)

British Society and Royal Photographer

Dorothy Wilding was born in Gloucester in 1893. Living in her uncle’s household, she was discouraged from becoming an actress and instead began to study photography. By the age of 21, she had opened her first studio and in 1937 opened a second in New York. She was already in great demand for society photos when, in 1952, she was asked to take the first of her now-iconic portraits of Elizabeth II.

She was the first woman to be appointed as the Official Royal Photographer (for the 1937 coronation) and built an illustrious career as a society and royal photographer. Between 1952 and 1971, her portraits formed the basis of The Queen’s image on British postage stamps. 2022 (the Jubilee year and death of Her Majesty the Queen) saw a renewed interest in her work as 24 of her portraits of the Queen were the core of an exhibition at Buckingham Palace, as well as a number of organisations around the UK showcasing her images during the celebrations.

Dorothy’s sitters include a veritable roll-call of the era’s biggest celebrities including Tallulah Bankhead, Noël Coward, Yehudi Menuhin, Vivien Leigh, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Cecil Beaton. By 1959, this style of portraiture was no longer fashionable, but the 1980s saw a revival of interest in her work, an interest that was re-fuelled by the jubilee exhibition.

Her royal portraits are held by the Royal Collection Trust and her archive held by the National Portrait Gallery. The Heroines Collection includes a number of Dorothy Wilding books, prints and ephemera, some of which are on permanent display at the Heroines Quarter.

Further reading:  Dorothy Wilding: The Pursuit of Perfection NPG catalogue with essay by Terence Pepper

10th January 1893 to 9th February 1976

Head and shoulders portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, facing the viewer, her torso in left side profile. She wears a black taffeta evening dress with the South Africa Necklace that was a 21st birthday gift from the Government of the Union of South Africa. It was later shortened to fifteen large stones, as shown here, and the remaining diamonds made into a bracelet.

Dorothy Wilding – Gloucester Archive

Gloucester: On the first anniversary of the late Queen's death, we are launching the Dorothy Wilding Gloucester Archive with an installation that commemorates Dorothy's relationship with Queen Elizabeth II, curated by collector Sarah Grant....

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