Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 16:47 UK

Edwardian colour photos on show

Kind Edward VII
King Edward VII during the Scottish autumn grouse season in 1909

A rare collection of historical images from the dawn of colour photography have gone on display in Hampshire.

Among the pictures on show at Exbury Gardens is the earliest known colour photograph of King Edward VII, taken in 1909 just months before he died.

They were taken by banker Lionel de Rothschild before he bought the estate in the New Forest in 1919.

The autochromes were recently rediscovered by his grandson wrapped in newspaper in the family home.

Mr Rothschild was a keen amateur photographer and experimented with the art of the autochrome - the earliest form of colour photography.

Between 1908 and 1912 he built a collection, taken in Britain, Europe and North Africa, of family and friends and images of gardens.

His images of animals and birds at London Zoo are the earliest known colour photographs taken there.

When Mr Rothschild moved to his new home in 1919 with his young family he took with him 700 autochromes, each carefully wrapped in newspaper to preserve the colours.

At Exbury he planted the famous gardens and developed the Rothschild collection of rhododendrons and azaleas.

Marie de Rothschild at Gunnersbury in about 1910
The photographer's mother Marie de Rothschild pictured in 1910

Meanwhile the pictures lay forgotten in a cupboard in Exbury House for years until they were discovered by another Lionel de Rothschild, the grandson of the creator.

Victor Gray, a co-ordinator of the exhibition, said it was the largest autochrome collection in the country attributed to one photographer.

He said: "It's hard to explain the quality of the colour and imagine the astonishment when autochromes were first displayed.

"They show the Edwardian world in a new light, a soft and subtle colour that makes you feel that's how the world really is.

"The plates have been cleaned and conserved and, as soon as they are lit, they release the image of a world remote to us in time and style, yet dressed in the same colours as the world around us today."

The Colours of Another Age exhibition will be open until 27 September.

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