Carte de visite of the week #8 The Scott Monument in 1869

After spending the last few days in Scotland it would be churlish of me not to feature a Scottish cdv in this week’s post, so I’ve chosen one that depicts that most iconic edifice of the capital city – the Scott Monument, completed in August 1844.

The monument has been photographed from the north side of Princes Street, looking to the SW with the National Gallery and the Royal Scottish Academy in the background, and beyond that, the hazy silhouette of the Mound and Edinburgh Castle.

The photographer was Archibald Burns (1831-80), who began taking pictures as an amateur in the 1850s before turning professional. He joined the Photographic Society of Scotland in 1858, but is first listed in the trade directories as a professional photographer in 1867.  The back of the card gives the date as August 1869, when his studio was still based at 22 Calton Stairs, a terrace building on Calton Hill. In 1871 he moved further up the hill into Rock House, the former studio of the great pioneering partnership of Hill and Adamson. Hill moved out of Rock House in 1869, the year before his death, and for a short period it was occupied by the Annan brothers, Thomas (father of James Craig Annan) and John. It must be remembered that at this time many photographers preferred to buy an existing photographic business – complete with a well-equipped studio and a ready-made customer base – rather than start their own one from scratch. Studios were therefore occupied by a series of photographers in succession, often over many decades.


The reverse of the card

Most of the cartes-des-visites I’ve featured so far have been portraits, and landscapes were far less usual as subjects. Burns was a prolific photographer of Edinburgh scenes, a large number of which were sold in the cdv format.  In 1868 fifteen of his photographs were published Picturesque Bits of Old Edinburgh, including albumen prints of Cardinal Beaton’s house in the Cowgate and John Knox’s House in the Royal Mile. After moving to Rock House, he was commissioned by the city’s Improvement Trust to photograph the ‘closes’ between the Cowgate and University’s Old Quadrangle (what is now Chambers Street), which were scheduled for demolition.  It was an area of overcrowding and poor sanitation, described in John Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Scotland (1868) as ‘one of the poorest and filthiest lanes in the United Kingdom.’ Burns photographed the tenement closes in February 1871, just after they had been cleared of their inhabitants. This was a very different aspect of Edinburgh life compared to that symbolised by the carte-de-visite above.


Detail from the above, showing the photographer’s emblem

Carte-de-visite of the week #7                                      A Visit to The Cobbler

I’m cheating again this week by posting a cabinet card rather than a cdv. (Although I don’t anticipate any complaints, if anyone wishes to do so, they send their postcards to the usual address…)

The photograph was probably taken in the early 1900s, as Robert Forbes is known to have run his business from 79 George Street from 1903 to 1910. Although he operated as a professional portrait photographer, the picture above was clearly taken outside the studio – presumably in the house of the cobbler, unless the scene is completely staged.

At first glance one might imagine that the photograph is an illustration of the old proverb, ‘The cobbler’s children are always the worst shod’, but a closer look reveals that the girl is holding one of her boots and socks in her hand, and is therefore the owner of the boot that the cobbler is repairing. Regarding the rest of her clothing, she is wearing a white pinafore of the type that was popular for girls from late in the nineteenth century through till the time of the First World War. It was meant to protect her dress from getting grubby, as the cotton was easier to wash.

In the background an advertisement for Wood Milne Heel Pads is visible. This was a British company, founded in 1896, which manufactured rubber goods including shoe heels, golf balls, car and motorcycle tyres, Also suspended from hooks on the wall are notebooks, photographs and cut-out pictures of footwear. It is intriguing to see large stone slabs stacked up in the fireplace. This jumble of miscellaneous workaday objects reinforces the impression that this is an authentic setting, although this does not exclude an element of careful staging.

A clue about this can be found in the National Archives at Kew, which holds three photographs that Forbes originally deposited in the Copyright Office in 1903:

‘”The Widow’s Mite,” taken at the entrance to Culross Parish Church. Old lady with little child dropping in penny in the collection plate and looking up into the presiding elder’s face. Two figures entering church’.

‘”Waiting.” Figure study. Old lady with bowl in hand standing at door.’

‘”The Village Well.” Photograph of old lady drawing water from well.’

The title and descriptions suggest that the photographs were imitating the genre paintings which had been so much in vogue during the Victorian era. These pictures depicted everyday domestic scenes in a realistic manner, but were often coloured with a touch of sentimentality. They were not allegorical, but sometimes the artist wished to illustrate certain moral themes or quaint character types.

The photographer had a personal link to the setting of The Widow’s Mite for his parents, Thomas and Catherine Forbes, lived in Culross. Robert was born in Edinburgh in 1879, and later married Florence Ethel Pursey; they had eight children (three sons and five daughters.) At the outbreak of the WWI he joined the Highland Light Infantry and served with them until the end of the war. The family then moved to Street in Somerset, where their youngest child was born, and where Forbes continued to work as a photographer.

Carte-de-visite of the week #6 John Henry Newman

This week’s cdv was acquired fairly recently for about 50 pence, and I suspect it would have cost much more had the seller known the identity of the sitter. John Henry Newman (1801-90) was one of the most influential religious thinkers and writers of the 19th century, and the portrait reflects his reputation for scholarship.

Newman’s writings and leadership of the ‘Oxford Movement’ in the 1830s and 1840s transformed the Church of England, but he became a Roman Catholic in 1845, was ordained a priest and joined the the Congregation of the Oratory. He was leader of the Oratorian community in Birmingham, where this photograph was taken.

Robert White Thrupp (1821-1907) had a studio at 66 New Street from 1867 to 1887, and this portrait was probably taken there in the late 1860s. Earlier in his career he had been a financial adviser to Windsor & Newton, and ran a printselling business at 66 New Street in partnership with Samuel W Hill. In 1862 they added a photographic studio to the premises and went into business with Napoleon Sarony. Hill left in 1863 and after Sarony returned to America in 1866 Thrupp bought his negatives and began running the business under his own name. It is interesting to see Thrupp offering the option for portraits to be ‘enlarged up to life size and painted in Oil or Water colors.’ Miniature portrait painters suffered the most from the rise of professional photography, and many followed the adage ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’, swapping their easels for cameras. The tangled relationship between art and photography is a fascinating field of study, and one its many paradoxes is the idea of people choosing to be photographed rather than painted, only to pay to have the photograph turned back into a painting.

A few well known paintings of Newman are known to have been worked up from photographs, and the famous chalk portrait by Lady Jane Coleridge, (below) was based on a photography by Thrupp taken around the same time as my cdv:


J H Newman in 1874, by Jane (née Fortescue Seymour), Lady Coleridge. Black chalk with black & white ink

Newman was photographed several times in his life, and perhaps a chronological list of these might be of interest:


1861 – Heath & Beau

At the end of November 1861 Newman went up to London for a few days. He stayed at 28 Portland Place, the house of his friend Henry Bowden, and in his diary for 27 November he noted ‘went to photographer.’ He recorded in his diary on 4 December 1861 that he ‘went two or three days to Photographer’ and In a letter to Ambrose St John written from Portland Place the same day, he revealed that the sessions had not been straightforward:

‘As to the Photographs, they came (in proof) last night, and are not quite satisfactory – The man wishes to try again – and I am going to him in an hour’s time – The want of light is the difficulty at this time of year.
3 pm. I have been to the man – he has taken four more photographs – but the light died away and he is not satisfied – he is going to print off some copies – but I am to go to him again, for another attempt. He charges nothing more – but he wants me to let him publish, which I have not granted.’

– Letters & Diaries XX, p.74.

Henry Charles Heath (1824-98) and Adolphe Paul Auguste Beau (1828-1910) ran a studio together at 283 Regent Street, Westminster, between 1861 and the dissolution of their business partnership in June 1863. It was therefore only a few minutes walk from Portland Place – and the repeated visits would not have been too inconvenient.


July 1863 – by Stanislas Bureau

Newman visited Paris with his friend William Neville between 21 and 24 July, during which time he called in at Monsieur Bureau’s studio at 44 Palais Royal, Rue Montpensier and had this portrait taken. The Frenchman had started his business in Paris in 1853 and this vignetted style of portraiture is typical of his work. He posted the photographs to Newman, and they were delivered to the Birmingham Oratory on 15 August 1863.

Letters & Diaries, XX p.505


July 1864 – by Mclean and Haes

The following summer saw Newman in London for a few days, staying at the Paddington Hotel from the 18th to the 25th of July. On the morning of Thursday 21 July he wrote in his diary:

‘Breaktasted with Monsell; with him and Ambrose to MacLean for Photographs, and the Houses of Parliament, dined with Ambrose at Victoria Station – went to British Institution [for Promoting the Fine Arts] Pictures.’

– Letters & Diaries XXI, pp.159-60.

Thomas Miller McLean (born 1832) and Frank Haes (1833-1916) ran a photographic studio together at 26 Haymarket until their business partnership was dissolved in September 1865.


Another RW Thrupp portrait from the late 1860s


HJ Whitlock

Joseph Whitlock (1806-57) was the first professional photographer to establish a permanent studio in Birmingham; after obtaining a daguerreotype license from Richard Beard, he opened a studio at 120 New Street in January 1843. His son Henry Joseph Whitlock (1835-1918) began working for him in 1852 but moved to Worcester in 1855 to set up his own business. His father’s studio moved to 110 New Street and was looked after by his widow until her death in 1862, at which point Henry Joseph moved back to Birmingham and opened his own studio at 11 New Street. He ran a very successful business here for the next few decades, assisted by family members – his sons, brother and nephews were all photographers. Newman had his portrait taken here several times.


Another HJ Whitlock, this time showing Newman wearing spectacles


Newman was made a cardinal in Rome on 12 May 1879


1879 – Fratelli D’Alessandri
This official photograph to commemorate Newman’s elevation to the cardinalate was taken at Rome’s most prestigious studio, which was run by two brothers: Don Antonio (1818-93), a Catholic priest, and Francesco (1824-89) D’Alessandri, who together opened the first professional photographic premises in Rome in about 1858. They had a particular close link to the Vatican and photographed all the popes of their era, including Leo XIII who gave Newman his cardinal’s hat.


1880 – HJ Whitlock. Newman here wearing his ‘galero’ or cardinal’s hat, received the previous year


Another Thrupp portrait, probably early 1880s – Newman has episcopal dress on. The biretta would have been scarlet.


Comparing the back of Thrupp’s 1880s cdv to my one from 15 years earlier, it can be seen that he has introduced colour and more ornate decoration


1885 – by Herbert Rose Barraud (1845-96)
Some books give the name of this photographer as Louis Barraud, although most seem to refer to him as Herbert Rose. It was published in 1888 in an early issue of his massive series, Men and Women of the Day: a picture gallery of contemporary portraiture, which was published in 78 monthly parts between January 1888 and June 1894 and eventually filled seven volumes. Barraud’s premises were at 263 Oxford Street although it is possible that he came to Birmingham to photograph Newman, who was now increasingly frail.


1889 – by Fr. Anthony Pollen Cong. Orat. (1860-1940)
This final portrait was not taken by a professional photographer, but by one of Newman’s fellow Oratorians, Father Anthony Pollen, who entered the Oratory in 1883, and was ordained priest in December 1889. He was the third son of John Hungerford Pollen (1820-1902) and brother of Jesuit scholar, Fr. John Hungerford Pollen SJ (1859-1925.) The latter was also a photographer, and both priests feature in my Ph.D research.

Carte-De-Visite of the Week #5 Friese-Greene

This attractive portrait was the work of William Friese-Greene (7 September 1855 – 5 May 1921), whose business as a portrait photographer has largely been eclipsed by of his fame as a pioneer cinematographer.

He was born plain William Green in Bristol on 7 September 1855 and became an apprentice to photographer Maurice Guttenberg at the age of fourteen.


Plaque commemorating Friese-Greene’s birthplace, erected in 1955.
He spent six years at Guttenberg’s premises at 67 Queens Road before branching out on his own, opening his own studios in Bristol, Bath, Plymouth, London and Brighton.  In 1874 he married Swiss girl Helena Friese and added her maiden name to his own to give it a more distinctive ring. Between 1875 and the mid 1880s he produced a number of elegant designs for the back of his CDVs:

In Bath he met John Roebuck Rudge, a manufacturer of magic lanterns who had been experimenting with ‘animated photography’ since the early 1870s. He and Rudge began collaborating on a ‘biophantic lantern’ that produced the illusion of moving pictures by projecting a series of glass slides in rapid succession.  In 1885 he moved to London and opened two photographic studios with Alfred Esmé Collings. Here he continued his work on motion pictures, trying out his ideas with oiled paper and celluloid film. His growing obsession with the work led him to neglect his photographic businesses, and he was declared bankrupt in 1891. Undeterred, he pressed on with devising further prototypes including a twin-lens projector and a two-colour process that was later developed as Biocolour by his son Claude Friese-Greene (1898-1943) a successful cinematographer.

Ray Allister (Muriel Forth) wrote a rather romantic biography Friese-Greene: Close-up of an inventor (1948) which was adapted for the screen in 1951 with Robert Donat playing the photographer. The release of The Magic Box coincided with the 1951 Festival of Britain and the movie is full of patriotic fervour, portraying Friese-Greene as the inventor of moving-pictures (as distinct from any French pretenders such as the Lumieres or Auguste Le Prince) and showcasing an amazing cast of British stars including Richard Attemborough, Laurence Olivier, Dennis Price, Margaret Rutherford, Michael Redgrave, Sybil Thorndike, Peter Ustinov…etc etc.  It’s sentimental and uncritical, but an enjoyable watch for all of that – and no doubt Friese-Greene himself would have savoured the lush Technicolor tones of Jack Cardiff’s cinematography.

By way of contrast (the sepia tones of all three images are rather faded with time) , here are a few more of my Friese-Greene cartes-des-visites as a final reminder of his earlier career:

Carte-de-visite of the week #4                      Walter Mudford’s Modern Girl

A familiarity with different periods of Victorian costume is a skill that collectors of CDVs rapidly acquire. In the absence of dates or other identifying data, dress and hair styles provide valuable clues about when a photograph was taken, and may even help indicate the location. Anyone who takes a serious interest in these images soon learns to recognise features such as bustles and bodices, chignons and chemisettes, mutton-chop sleeves and polonaise skirts.

Occasionally one comes across a portrait, however, in which the sitter appears to inhabit a different time period from the one in which they lived. An apparent anachronism of dress, a startlingly novel hairstyle, or perhaps an informal pose or facial expression that feels more akin to a modern ‘selfie’ – any little feature like this can jolt the reader into looking more carefully at the carte and questioning what they know.

This was the case for me with this particular portrait, which was taken in a studio about nine miles from where I am writing this. At first glance, the young woman’s hairstyle and neckline looked remarkably modern: it is possible that her hair is long at the back – bobbed hair would have been extremely rare before the 1920s – but I remain struck by the unusual cut, the metal necklet and plain, smooth outfit.

What clues can be used to date the portrait? A little digging through the Tiverton census records was enough to provide a rough outline of the photographer’s life.

Walter Mudford (1851-1936) was one of six children belonging to William and Mary Mudford, who lived at 50 Fore Street, Tiverton. William is described in the 1861 census as a basket-maker and dealer in china, glass and fishing tackle; his eldest son William was also selling fishing tackle in 1861, but ten years later Walter – now aged 19 – gave his occupation as basket maker.

Walter Henry Mudford first appears as a photographer in the 1878 Harrod’s Directory for Devon. The 1881 census reveals that, although still living with his parents, he employed two other men in his photographic business.  Thirty years later it had become very much a family business. Working at the photographic studio at 10 Fore Street in 1911 were Walter, now 59, assisted by his wife Emily, 23-year old daughter Kathleen and 19-year old niece Gladys.

Employment in a photographic studio provided reasonable opportunities for women in the 19th century, and not always at a junior level: the wife of Disdéri, the great populariser of the carte-de-visite, was one of the earliest women to run her own professional studio, while some of the finest art photographers in both Britain and America were women – one thinks of names such as Lady Clementina Hawarden, Julia Margaret Cameron, Gertrude Käsebier and Anne Brigman. Theirs was a very different line of work from that undertaken by Kathleen and Gladys Mudford, who would have obliged to work long hours for a wage of only a few pounds a week. I suspect the young lady who sat for this portrait led a rather different life.

It was easier for men to progress up the career ladder, and in the same census (1911) we find Walter’s 19-year old son Harry giving his occupation as a factory dyer. When his father died on 2 August 1936, he was a chemist. The family business is long gone now, and the site of the Mudford studio is now occupied by a branch of Oxfam.