Picturing the Victorians: British Photographs and Reproductive Prints from the Department of Image Collections

On view at the National Gallery of Art Study Center, East Building, Ground Floor through January 28, 2011 (Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.).

British 19th Century, "A Sunday Afternoon in a Picture Gallery" from "The Graphic," February 8, 1879, wood engraving, Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library

This exhibition presents twenty-two nineteenth-century photographs and reproductive prints from the department of image collections at the National Gallery of Art Library. Organized to accompany The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875 (on view through January 30, 2011), this show highlights resources for the study of Victorian art and culture. By the 1850s a wide range of art reproductions, made possible by recent advances in printmaking and photographic processes, were available in Britain. These images, selected from the department’s rare holdings, document the work of Victorian artists including Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and George Frederic Watts, as well as significant exhibitions and collections of the period.

André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819–1889), "The Billiard Room, Osborne House" from "The Osborne Album: Thirty-three Photographic Views of the Queen’s Marine Residence at Osborne" (London; Paris, 1867), albumen print, Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library

Picturing the Victorians examines photography as an emerging medium for documenting and reproducing works of art. It features the work of five leading nineteenth-century photographers, ranging from an early salted paper print by Roger Fenton, photographer to the British Museum in the 1850s, to later platinum prints by Frederick Hollyer, who photographed the work of Pre-Raphaelite and aesthetic movement artists. In developing this show I found the image collections contain material related to two of the most significant exhibitions held in mid nineteenth-century Britain—the Great Exhibition of 1851, popularly know as the Crystal Palace, and the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857.  Two salted paper prints depicting the Great Exhibition by Claude-Marie Ferrier and an albumen print from the catalogue of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition taken by the noted London firm Caldesi & Montecchi may be seen as representative examples. Another highlight of the exhibition is a rare album depicting Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s private residence on the Isle of Wight, featuring photographs taken by André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in the 1860s. The album provides in-depth visual documentation of the important sculpture collection assembled by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at Osborne. Photographic portraits of several artists, including the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais, also form part of this show.

Joseph Benwell Clark (1857–1938) after George Frederic Watts, "Pallas, Juno, and Venus," published 1880, etching, René Huyghe Archive, Department of Image Collections, National Gallery of Art Library

Additionally, this exhibition explores the production and distribution of reproductive prints, or prints after works of art, in the nineteenth century.  With the expansion of the art market and the rise of publishing during this period, reproductive prints were increasingly used to illustrate publications. Prints also played an increasingly important role in the popularity and success of Victorian artists, such as Edward Landseer and Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who profited from the sale of reproductions of their work to the burgeoning middle classes. The show presents a range of prints from a steel engraving by Lumb Stocks after Frederick, Lord Leighton to an etching by Joseph Benwell Clark after George Frederic Watts. Many of the prints on view were acquired as part of the René Huyghe Archive, which forms the core of the department’s extensive collection of British, French, Italian, and Northern European reproductive prints.

– Contributed by Andrew L. Thomas, Image Specialist for American and British Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington