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Portraits from the British Library Online Gallery_jane 1 September 2013

I hadn't seen this site before yesterday so adding this for link info and general perusing pleasure. This is from a current exhibition so maybe changes periodically.

British Library Online Gallery: Portraits

A new age of celebrity dawned thanks to portraiture - so did the carte de visite and the PR photo.


Portrait of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, English author and hedonist, early 1860s
Photographer: Lady Alice Mary Kerr (d. 1892)

Albumen print

This strikingly intense portrait of the poet, diplomat, hedonist and anti-imperialist Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was taken by Lady Alice Mary Kerr, a member of his social circle and daughter of the 7th Marquess of Lothian.

Little is known of Kerr’s photographic activities or connections, but this image in particular identifies her as a remarkably skilled portrait photographer.

Portrait of the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell, 1893
Photographers: Mayall and Co.

Carbon print
From Charles Eglinton (ed.), Men and Women of the Day (London, 1890-93), vol. 6, 1893

Photographic portrait galleries had begun to appear as early as the 1850s and the genre remained popular until the end of the century.

Herbert Barraud’s Men and women of the day, later edited by Charles Eglinton, began publication in 1888, with three photographs issued each month at a price of two shillings and sixpence. The series proposed to make available portraits of ‘those persons of most interest to the world at the moment,’ with subjects selected from politics, the arts, the professions and high society. Mounted on stiff card, the portraits were designed to be equally suitable for binding into book form or for framed display.

Born Beatrice Stella Tanner, Campbell became the second wife of George Cornwallis-West, previously married to Jennie Jerome, the mother of Winston Churchill. In 1914, she played Eliza Doolittle in the original production of Shaw's Pygmalion. By then she was the biggest name on the London stage.

Charles Baudelaire, French poet, c.1862
Photographer: Étienne Carjat (1828 - 1906)

Carbon print
From Gaston Schéfer (ed.), Galerie contemporaine littéraire, artistique (Paris, 1876-84), vol. 3 part 1

Despite his condemnation of photography as a refuge for failed painters, the poet sat for a number of photographers. He was sufficiently impressed by Carjat’s portrait to write to the artist requesting prints, praising it as ‘not perfect, but only because perfection is impossible’.

The photograph is one of many studies of artists and writers which the caricaturist, writer and photographer Étienne Carjat contributed to the Galerie contemporaine, a weekly revue of the arts which appeared between 1876 and 1884.

Portrait of Oscar Wilde in New York, 1882, Irish playwright and 'celebrity'
Photographer: Napoleon Sarony (1821-1896)

Gelatin silver print

Sarony was an Canadian-born lithographer and photographer. He was known for his portraits of the stars of late 19th-century American theatre. He established a photography studio at 37 Union Square, during a time when celebrity portraiture was a popular fad.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Patience opened to great acclaim in New York in 1881. In it, Wilde was parodied through the character 'Bunthorne'. He was employed by D'Oyly Carte to promote the aesthetic movement in America, and in 1882 he embarked on a lecture tour. Originally planned to last four months, the tour finally lasted nearly a year and was, in Wilde’s words, a ‘great success…nothing like it since Dickens, they tell me’.

Sarony took at least 27 poses of Wilde, many of them showing him in his ‘aesthetic’ dress. Such was the publicity value of Sarony’s work, that Wilde’s manager waived the fees for these sittings.

The notebook in which this portrait is contained also includes a number of studies of Blunt’s sister Alice, dressed to illustrate historical and literary figures such as Joan of Arc and the Lady of Shallot.


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