Thursday, August 17, 2006

Royal Profile: Marcus Adams

His name may not be as well known as Cecil Beaton, Patrick Lichfield, or Snowdon, but as a photographer Marcus Adams did his part in contributing to royal iconography.

Marcus Adams was born in 1875, the seventh child of Walton Adams, a pioneer photographer in the 1860s. His studio in Reading was renowned for its portraits of English and European royalty and he could count amongst his clientele Queen Victoria and General Charles Gordon. Marcus came from an artistic family, his elder brother Christopher was a portrait painter and distinguished minaturist, and his sister Lilian was a well-known painter.

Marcus left school in 1890 and joined the Wesleyan Church, becoming attached to the Methodist religion. By day he worked in a solicitor's office copying documents. He was trained in art at Reading Art College and later in Paris. In 1892 he apprenticed at his father's Reading studio, polishing the floor and brass, preparing negatives for proofing, eventually graduating to proofing and retouching. He was also commissioned to take photographs and assisted in producing illustrations. His first royal photography was a commission of a visit by King George V to the Sutton seed factory.

During his years in his father's studio, he gained a reputation for portrait photography. However, Marcus had a particular talent for photographing children, possessing an affinity and rapport with children rare at the time in photographers. In 1911 his first portraits were accepted by the London Salon of Photography and two of his studies were published in Photograms. During the First World War, when business photographing children was slow, he photographed men in the services, as well as drawing and painting aircraft in battle.

In 1919 he decided to leave his father's studio and with Bertram Park, and his wife Yvonne Gregory, formed the "Three Photographer's" Studio in London. While Bertram Park concentrated on photographs of society beauties, Marcus' Nursery Studio focused on children.

Although he would gain some reknown as a photographer of royal children, he refused one of his earliest royal commissions. When the Countess of Strathmore, mother of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon asked him to photograph her daughter, he declined because she was over sixteen. But, he said "if she marries and has children then I should be delighted to photograph her with her children." In 1926 he would take the first official photographs of Princess Elizabeth with the Duchess of York. His portraits of Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were reproduced throughout the world in magazines, stamps and commemorative items. His career as a royal photographer would last thirty years and span four generations, ending with portraits of Princess Anne in 1956.

He and his wife, Lily Maud, had a son named Gilbert, born in 1906, who would become successful in his own right as a photographer, specializing in photographing the ballet. Gilbert would also direct the lighting in Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

He travelled extensively with his wife and sometimes with his brother Chris. Gardening was a passion, he planned and landscaped gardens and planted tress wherever he lived, and won prizes for his sweet peas. He had a studio workshop where he would manufacture his own woodwork tools and he carved, sculpted stone, painted in oil, watercolor and pastel. He had an interest in phrenology and palmistry, as well as psychology, something which was particularly helpful in working with his young subjects. In his later years he spent many hours at his home, Lavender Cottage, near Wargrave, Berkshire, designing pictures made from his collection of wildflowers and grasses.

He died at the age of eighty-four in 1959.

© Marilyn Braun 2006

For examples of his work visit The Royal Collection and the National Portrait Gallery.

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