Sunday, 14 June 2020

Bertie in the Middle East: online showing for first royal tour photographs


Bertie in the Middle East: online showing for first royal tour photographs

Museums, art galleries, heritage sites and the like are regrettably having a tough time of things at the moment, with lock-down having seriously impacted many excellent institutions.  Despite this risk to their very existence the vast majority seem to have stepped up to the crease with remarkable initiative, with some superb online curatorial videos and similar displays available on YouTube and the like.  The exhibition mentioned in this article, although photographic rather than audiovisual in nature, is no less fascinating featuring as it does the first photographic record of a royal tour of the Middle East.

This was Edward, the Prince of Wales' (later to become King Edward VII) 1862 trip to Greece, the then Ottoman Empire, the Holy Land and finally to Egypt - partly designed to bolster Britain's relations with those countries and but also it seems to deflect attention from one of Bertie's many flings with a female member of the British theatre scene(!).  In a very modern and what would nowadays be called a "damage-limitation exercise", the experienced and highly-respected photographer Francis Bedford was sent along as one of the party to document the tour in the new medium of photography.


Now thanks to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts the photos from that tour are available to view online as part of its Sights of Wonder exhibition.  Originally intended to be a physical display at the Institute's Birmingham location it has been swiftly and expertly switched to a web-based digital exhibit and jolly well done it is too.  Not only does it showcase Bedford's remarkable pictures of historic sites that had previously only been seen (if at all) as paintings or drawings, but it also includes excerpts from Edward's personal diary and contemporary news reports - all of which add to the overall fascination immeasurably.

Everyone involved is worthy of congratulation on creating such an interesting and absorbing exhibit during these difficult times and I'm particularly pleased to note the involvement of some University of Birmingham history students - I hope this will benefit and inspire them to future endeavours in preserving these important aspects of our history.  In the meantime although it is heartening to see how well some museums are adapting to the ongoing situation there are of course many that are still closed and facing an uncertain future.  I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how important it is that we support those institutions that are struggling through these hard times, if only by visiting them again when circumstances are such that they are able to reopen.

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