Carte-de-visite of the week #17. Pascal Sébah (1823–1886)

Portrait of an unknown lady, by Pascal Sebah

Most of the cartes-des-visites featured so far have been either British or European, so this week I thought I’d rove further afield and include an image from the Middle East. This portrait was taken by Pascal Sébah (1823–1886), who was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul of course) to a Syrian Catholic father and an Armenian mother.

He opened his first photographic studio in the city in 1857, with premises on Postacılar Street in the European side of Constantinople, separated from the old city by the Golden Horn. Now known as Beyoğlu, the district was then called ‘Péra’ by western visitors and residents, from the Greek Πέρα, meaning ‘beyond’. From the outset, Sebah’s studio aimed to attract tourists and westerners, exploiting their fascination with the exoticism of ‘the Orient.’  His studio actually bore the name El Chark (from the Arabic الشرق meaning ‘the east’ or ‘the Orient’), which can be seen printed on the back of this carte-de-visite. (The Arabic characters are written in a decorative style which may be hard to decipher to the untrained eye

After three years he opened a new studio in a more upmarket location at 439 Grande Rue de Pera, which he ran with the assistance of a young French photographer named Antoine Laroche. Business fared well, and in 1873 Sebah opened another studio in Cairo. He not only made panoramic views of both cities and picturesque views of ancient ruins in Egypt, but also travelled to Greece to take photographs of popular sites there. The absence of any reference to Cairo on the back of the carte-de-visite – unlike the one below – suggests that this portrait was taken before 1873. Who the old lady was – a resident of Constantinople or a visitor – remains unknown.

In both Cairo and Constantinople, Sebah catered largely for western tourists, taking their portraits as well as producing images that aligned with their expectations of an oriental region of ancient mystery and exotic beauty. One of the most popular subjects for visitors was the depiction of locals in traditional Ottoman costume.

His experience in this type of image led to a collaborative project with the artist and antiquary Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910), founder of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Together they produced Les Costumes Populaires de la Turquie en 1873, [Popular Costumes in Turkey in 1873], a 370-page album that combined illustrations with detailed commentary by Victor Marie de Launay , and was submitted to the 1873 World Exhibition in Vienna. The album included Sebah’s portraits of Kurds, Turkish women, Bedouin from Aleppo, and Armenian Orthodox clergy.

Bey had studied painting in Paris under the artists Gustave Boulanger and Jean-Léon Gérôme, both of whom were known for their Orientalist treatments of Middle Eastern subjects. Sebah also kept in close contact with developments in French art and photography, submitting his work to exhibitions in Paris, winning medals there and becoming a member of the Société Française de Photographie. Examples of these were printed on the back of his cartes-de-visites, as seen below:

He was also involved in events closer to home, and was commissioned by Sultan Abdülhamid II to produce a photographic records of the changes then taking place in the Ottoman Empire.  The Sultan’s reign was a troubled one that saw rapid modernization and progress in education, alongside brutal repression of reformists and liberals, censorship of the press, war with Russia (1877-78), Armenian massacres (1894-86) and the gradual decline and collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Some of these photographs appeared in the French magazine Le Monde illustré.

Pascal Sebah suffered a stroke and died on 25 June 1886. He was buried in the Feriköy Latin Cemetery in Istanbul.

Following his death his business was managed by his brother Cosmi and then later by his son Jean Pascal Sébah (1872-1947), who joined the firm in 1888 at the age of sixteen. Jean went into partnership with another French photographer, Policarpe Joallier, and in 1890 their business was honoured with the title of ‘Photographers to the Sultan.’ Abdülhamid II commissioned thousands of photographs from Sebah & Joaillier and the firm enjoyed a distinguished reputation well into the 20th century. Jean Pascal Sébah died on 6 June 1947, at the age of 75.

For more on Sebah, see

Engin Özendes, From Sébah & Joallier to Foto Sabah: Orientalism in Photography (Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Publications, 1999)

Bahattin Öztuncay, The photographers of Constantinople: Pioneer studios and artists from nineteenth-century Istanbul (Istanbul: Koç Kültür Sanat Tanıtım, 2003)

Carte-de-visite of the week #16

This week’s carte-de-visite continues the religious theme, in that the subject of the photograph – a young boy, apparently named Alfred – is shown carrying a prayer book and a Rosary, suggesting that this was taken on the occasion of his First Holy Communion. In one of Baroness Orczy’s ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ novels, Sir Percy Strikes Back (1927), she describes the young lad Amédé wearing for his First Communion ‘an exquisite cloth coat with brass buttons, a silk waistcoat, buckled shoes and a white ribbon sash on his left arm.’ The significance of the large white pole held in his right hand is unclear to me, however. It looks rather like a narwhal tusk, although perhaps it could have been a processional pole for a banner – but why show the pole and not the banner? Perhaps a reader can help?

The Catholic population on Jersey increased rapidly following the French revolution as thousands of Catholic clergy and emigres fled to the island in the wake of persecution. Further secular legislation in 1880 forced another wave of members of religious orders to leave France, and in October of that year two priests from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate were among those who came to Jersey. Over the next few years they raised funds to build a church for the Catholics of St Helier, and St Thomas was opened in October 1887, possibly not long after this photograph was taken. Despite the large influx of French emigres, St Helier was a predominantly English-speaking town, and certainly the name ‘Alfred’ suggests that the boy was of English rather than French background.

The photographer, Ernest Baudoux (1828-1897), was  a French emigre, although he had been running a photographic studio in St Helier since 1869. He was joined by his son, also named Ernest, in 1885, so the inscription ‘E. Baudoux & Son’ on the reverse of the card dates this image to somewhere between 1885 and 1887, when Baudoux sold his business to an English photographer named John Stroud. The latest known negative number listed on the excellent historical website relating to the Channel Islands, ‘The Island Wiki’  (https://www.theislandwiki.org/index.php/Ernest_Baudoux) is 36532, whereas this cdv is numbered 37548 – suggesting that this must be one of the very last photographs taken by Baudoux before winding up business.

The front of the card proudly states that the photograph was taken using the chromotype process, and was ‘printed in carbon.’  There were various versions of this process, patented by Joseph Swan and others, and practitioners needed to pay for a license in order to do so. Although it was therefore more expensive, the results were worth it, as the use of carbon instead of silver gave the chromotype a deeper, richer purplish colour and a hard, glossy, metallic finish. Unlike the sepia toning produced by silver, the carbon prints did not become yellow and faded with age, which explains the sharp tones of this image. For more details, see Audrey Linkman’s article ‘The stigma of instability’ in Photographica World 91 (Winter 1999/2000).

 

Carte-de-visite of the week #13 Belle Bilton

This carte-de-visite was taken in the late 1880s and shows the Countess of Clancarty (1867-1906) – a singer, actress and music-hall entertainer better known under her stage-name of Belle Bilton. It shows her in costume and was taken in the Ebury Street studios of fashionable London photographers W. & D. Downey, opened in 1872 by William Downey (1829-1915) while his brother Daniel managed their studio in Newcastle. The Downeys took many portraits of Queen Victoria and the royal family, as well as aristocrats, society beauties and famous actresses. Belle was photographed by Downey several times, and also sat for other society photographers such as Alexander Bassano.

Background and Stage Career

Isabel Maud Penrice Bilton was born in 1867, the daughter of Sergeant John George Bilton of the Royal Engineers. Under the stage name of Belle Bilton she made her name as a music hall entertainer at the Alhambra and the Empire and other venues. Sometimes she appeared with her sister – an advert for a performance at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly in 1886 shows the ‘Sisters Bilton’ on the billing.

Lord Dunlo

Richard Somerset Le Poer Trench, 4th Earl of Clancarty, using a stereoscopic camera around 1864, three years before the birth of his son.

At the Corinthian Club towards the end of April or beginning of May 1889, Belle met a young aristocrat – William, Viscount Dunlo, son of Richard Somerset Le Poer Trench, 4th Earl of Clancarty and heir to the title. Like Belle, Lord Dunlo was twenty years old, and the couple quickly fell for one another: they were married soon after, at Hampstead Registry Office, on 10 July 1889. The groom’s father was not impressed at his son’s choice of bride, and William had already incurred the Earl’s displeasure due to his lack of enthusiasm for the army career that had been planned for him. As it had already been decided that William would benefit from foreign travel in the company of a sober and morally-minded mentor, his scandalous marriage to a music hall entertainer proved the last straw: the Earl forced his newly-wedded son to sail for Australia immediately under threat of losing his inheritance. A divorce case – which in those days depended upon proving adultery – was at once initiated, with the Earl determined to use every means in his power to blacken Belle’s name and have the union dissolved with his family’s honour intact.

The Trial

Over the next few months evidence was gathered, while Belle – in the absence of her husband – continued to socialise and pursue her stage career. In April 1890 she played the title role in the ‘burlesque extravaganza’ Venus at the Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. The trial opened in July 1890 with Sir James Hannen sitting as judge, Sir Charles Russell prosecuting, and the solicitor general Frank Lockwood QC representing Belle. The adultery trial had been preceded by a separate court case in which Belle was implicated in forgery; although the matter was quite independent of her marriage to Lord Dunlo, it was clearly intended to blacken her character – an objective that was largely thwarted by her being found innocent.

Eastern Evening News (Saturday 12 July 1890) p.2

It became apparent during the adultery trial that Belle was more sinned against than sinning, and the Earl and his associates came out looking worse, having instigated various machinations to make Belle look bad. As recent events have made all too clear, rich and powerful men can be responsible for all sorts of abuse to protect their interests. When Lord Dunlo declared he believed his wife to be innocent of the charges, the case collapsed, and he returned to live with Belle. Cut off from his father’s allowance, the couple were required to live off Belle’s earnings from the theatre – estimated at around £1,500 a year. Some felt that the publicity of the court case might actually help matters:

‘I dare say the photographs of Lady Dunlo (Miss Belle Bilton) are more marketable now than ever. I don’t know if this fascinating young lady has been paid liberal terms by Bassano and the other photographers to whom she has given sittings, but she certainly deserves to remunerated handsomely. She will sell like ripe cherries from now until her divorce trial comes off.’

London and Provincial Entr’acte (Saturday 12 July 1890) p.5.

The couple did not have long to wait. Belle’s father-in-law died less than a year after the trial, aged only 57. In May 1891 her husband became the 5th Earl of Clancarty, and Belle assumed the title of Countess of Clancarty. The couple had five children, including the 6th and 7th Earls of Clancarty.

Belle with her twin sons Richard and Henry, born Devember 1891. Photographed by Bassano ca. 1893-4. Reproduced courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Sadly, Belle died of cancer on 31 December 1906 at Garbaldy Park, Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland, at the age of only 39. Carte-de-visite portraits of her – both in theatrical costume and as herself – are fairly easy to find and so it is tempting to consider building up a collection of these. Belle’s short life is intriguing for anyone with an interest in late Victorian theatre, and there is something inspiring – and remarkably topical – about the story of how this young woman refused to be crushed by powerful men who sought to silence her.

 

Carte-de-visite of the week #12

 

It seems like an eon since I last posted in this series, and so – to make up for lost time – this week I’m looking at four cdvs, including delightful portraits of three young sisters.

Bishop Wood (1839-) of Lower Leigh.

What makes me want to acquire cdvs such as these?  The attraction could stem from any number of things. There might be some unusual aspect to the image itself, or some intriguing detail in the artwork or lettering on the back of the card. It might be the photographer’s name that attracts, possibly because I am familiar with their work already, or because he or she has a local connection. Sometimes the place or person depicted is of interest. Handwritten annotations always catch my eye, for even a few cryptic details might provide enough clues to build up a little bit of background.

Such was the case with this group of four cards. Although they were produced by two photographers, one in Bristol the other in Tiverton, the similarity of surnames, placenames and handwriting indicated a close family connection. Piecing the jigsaw together involved a fair amount of work, but enough details came together to share here.

 According to the printed advert on the reverse of the card, the portrait above was taken by R Houlson, of 5 Griffin Hill, Bristol. Robert Houlson was born in Bristol but had Devon connections, as he first appears as a commercial photographer in the 1871 census when he was living in Honiton.

Bishop Wood appears in the 1861 census as the 22 year old son of William Ayshford Wood (1810-84), a ealthy gentleman who lived at Leigh House in Uffculme and was one of the main freeholders in the parish. William’s other children included William (aged 19 in 1861), Penelope (aged 16), Florence (aged 9) and Arthur Ayshford. It seems almost certain that this Arthur Ayshford Wood (1849-) – Bishop Wood’s brother –  is ‘A.A.W’, father of the three girls below. He married Julianna Palmer (1845-1921) at Tiverton in 1869, and their first child – a son named Arthur – was born in 1870.

The girls’ portraits were taken by Walter Mudford, about whom I have written in a previous post. His photography business was first recorded in 1878 and these were probably taken within five years of that date. Note the bearskin rug!

The caption to each portrait reproduces the pencil note on the back.

 

 

‘M. Wood, daughter of AAW, Leigh Court, now Mrs Worth of Tiverton.’
Julia Mabel Wood was born in 1872. She married Charles Lloyd Henry Worth at Tiverton in April 1894.
‘F. Wood, daughter of AAW, Leigh Court.’
Gertrude Florence Wood was born in 1875.

‘A. Wood, daughter of AAW, Leigh Court’

Alice Wood, born in 1876.

The 1881 census records Arthur Wood along with three daughters: Gertrude (aged 6), Alice (aged 4) and Ethel (aged 1) as well as a three-year old son named Ashford. The absence of any names beginning with either M or F was puzzling at first, but the 1891 census reveals that the eldest daughter (Julia) Mabel (now aged eighteen and therefore born in 1872) was away from home on the night of the census ten years earlier, presumably with her mother Mrs Julianna Wood (now 44.) A son Ernest had also appeared, born around 1883.

It is therefore possible to identify the three sitters as Mabel, Gertrude and Alice. Going by the ages and their dates of birth, Walter Mudford probably took the portraits in the mid-1880s. Dating their uncle’s portrait is a little harder, but if he was in his mid-40s when the photograph was taken then it was probably about the same time. He was then living in Dulverton, Somerset – not far from Tiverton and Uffculme – with his wife Elizabeth and describing himself as a retired farmer.

Sadly, his brother’s marriage broke up in the late 1890s – Julianna divorced Arthur Wood following his infidelity with a woman named Sarah Broad, and went to live in Heavitree, Exeter. I haven’t followed up how life turned out for her daughters – a project for another day, perhaps.

carte de visite of the week #11 robert graham and the love letter

This week’s cdv is a rather charming portrait of a young lady reading a letter. Her natural pose and slight smile make a pleasant change to the forced artifices found in many portraits, where the sitters appear uncomfortable, are grimacing rigidly, or else are engaged in some pretence such as rowing a boat inside the studio. All portraiture, of course, involves an element of performance, and this was even more the case during the early years of photography. However, a cdv portrait like this could almost be imagined as a candid shot in the corner of someone’s living room. Was this letter a studio prop, or did the girl bring it along with her? Does it have personal significance – a letter from a distant relative, friend or lover? Perhaps the carte-de-visite was made for the person who wrote the letter, and would be posted back to them as an affectionate sign that his/her correspondence was both received and valued.

The reverse of the card identifies the photographer as Robert L. Graham, operating from his studio at the Top end of the Parade (No.6), Leamington, Warwickshire. It probably dates to the 1890s: Graham opened his studio at 7a Upper Parade in 1873, later moving to York Terrace and then to No. 6 Parade, expanding into the next door premises (No.8) as his business flourished.

Graham appears to have been a prolific photographer, making many thousands of images during this period. After his business closed in the 1920s, the store of negatives ended up – no one knows how – in the cellar of a house at 16 Augusta Place, a couple of blocks away from The Parade.  They were forgotten about and the cellar was bricked up, sealing the negatives away for decades. They were only discovered by chance in April 1987 when workmen happened to break through the cellar wall, and found stacks of glass negatives, piled up to five foot high. The total number was estimated at between 40-50,000, but most of them were damaged beyond repair. Thankfully, around 5000 of Robert Graham’s negatives were rescued safely and are now held by the Warwickshire County Record Office. You can read more about this remarkable story here.