Dorothy Wilding - a Royal Photographer

To mark Women's History Month Deputy Curator Georgina looks at the work and influence of Dorothy Wilding on stamp design.

Dorothy Wilding (10 January 1893 – 9 February 1976) was an English photographer from Gloucester. After studying alongside photographers such as Marian Neilson she opened her own studio in 1914 and another in New York in 1937. She started photographing the Royal Family in 1928 and would go on to produce the first image of Queen Elizabeth II for stamps.

King George VI & Queen Elizabeth

Photographs of King George VI by Dorothy Wilding were considered for the King’s definitive stamps but were felt not suitable. The eventual design used a portrait by Bertram Park.

Dorothy also took photographs of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen mother. These images produced in 1937 for King George VI’s coronation stamp show a relaxed yet dignified woman, wearing a tiara and pearls. There were numerous examples of both profile and face on portraits depending on what was required for the stamp design.

Two black and white images of Queen Elizabeth at different angles wearing a tiara and pearls.

Portraits of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother by Dorothy Wilding, 1937 (KGVI/06/07 & 10).

Black and white portrait of the couple side by side. The King wears medals and the Queen pearls and a tiara.

King George VI & Queen Elizabeth double portrait by Dorothy Wilding, 1936 (KGVI/01/16)

The final design for the coronation stamp was produced by Edmund Dulac who drew the monarchs’ heads from the Wilding photographs. After taking these images of the royal couple she became the first women to be made the official royal photographer at the coronation in 1937.

Stamp design featuring drawings of the royal couple surrounded by the text 'Postage Revenue', the stamp value and the date '12 May 1937'.

Accepted design for KGVI Coronation stamp designed by Edmund Dulac, 1937 (KGVI/06/24)

Queen Elizabeth II

Dorothy Wilding submitted many photographs of Queen Elizabeth II for possible use on the new definitive stamp.

Black and white image of the Queen in a black ruffled dress wearing a tiara.

Queen Elizabeth II in a black dress photographed by Dorothy Wilding, 1952 (QEII/LVW/08)

The final design chosen featured the Queen in a three-quarter pose wearing a diamond diadem. This image would adorn definitives, regionals and commemorative stamps until 1967.

Black and white image of the Queen in three-quarter pose wearing a crown.

Accepted photograph for definitive stamps by Dorothy Wilding, 1952 (QEII/LVW/01/07)

Royal Portraits by Men

At the time Dorothy was photographing the royal family for stamp design most of the accepted designs were being produced by men. Dorothy had many male photographers as competition for stamp commissions. On both the King George VI definitive and coronation stamps we also have portraits submitted by Bertram Park and Hugh Cecil.

Black and white circular portrait of Queen Elizabeth the Queen's Mother without headdress.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother by Hugh Cecil, 1937 (KGVI/06/12)

Black and white profile photograph of King George V facing the left.

King George VI portrait by Bertram Park, 1937 (KGVI/01/08)

Issued Stamps

Stamps are recognisable images of the monarch seen by millions of people around the world. For over 10 years the portrait of the Queen was taken by a female photographer. This has a huge influence on encouraging women into artistic practices and contributing to stamp design. May it continue.

A red stamp depicting the Wilding portrait adorned with orb and sceptre.

2½d, Coronation, Queen Elizabeth II, 1953

During March let’s take a minute to recognise the women that have influenced aspects of your own work or organisation or read the stories of amazing women of the past.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Deputy Curator, Philately