18
Feb
15

Exhibition: ”Poor man’s picture gallery’: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 7th October 2014 – 12th April 2015

Curator: Carol Jacobi with Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin

 

 

I have always been fascinated by early three-dimensional photography, inexpensive stereograph pictures. To me, they are an early form of VR. You bring a machine to your eyes, focus and wham, your in another world – just like wearing an enveloping VR headset. Here are the Pyramids, or the Venice canals, right in front of you. The pictures separate fore, mid and background so there is real depth to the tableaux, like sitting in an iMax cinema and watching old New York come to life. The photographs seem to reach out to you, not just the scene being brought to life, but the transcendence of time as well. This is how these things looked all those years ago in Technicolor 3D. Even now, there is nothing quite like looking through a stereoscope viewer.

In this exhibition we see that, not only did photographers copy famous paintings, but new innovation and mis en scene techniques in photography also inspired painters. “Stereographic techniques of arranging real figures in compositions that were at once carefully composed and naturally spontaneous were particularly pertinent to Pre-Raphaelite painters, who observed and used friends and acquaintances as models in inventive and expressive new poses.”

Both mediums had their advantages: the artistic possibilities of the precocious technology of photography allowed the mind of the viewer “to feel its way into the very depths of the picture” and produce “a surprise such as no painting ever produced.” The photographs added a charm and depth never dreamt of by the original artists, the painters. While “the light and colour [of the photographs] appear crude in comparison with the painting … the stereoscope records ‘every stick, straw, scratch’ in a manner that the painting cannot.” The painters colour harmonies are infinitely more nuanced than the hand-tinted photograph and the brushwork asserts the painter’s individual touch.

But, as curator Carol Jacobi’s erudite essay “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” (which is well worth the time to read) observes, one medium did not defer to the other but played off each other, working in different form in the service of realism. As Jacobi observes, “The problems and possibilities of realism… underpinned the dialogue between painters and stereographers.” For example, “Robinson’s The Death of Chatterton illustrates the way this uncanny quality [the ability to record reality in detail] distinguishes the stereograph from even the immaculate Pre-Raphaelite style of Wallis’s painting of the same subject.” Jacobi also notes that, “Unlike painting, stereographs exclude things outside the frame. When the eyes come close to the stereoscope lenses and manage to bring the image into focus they experience the sudden sensation of being in the picture… Stereography was a new art. Gaudin’s stereograph can be seen exploring its distinctive characteristics, the actuality of figures and its immersive three-dimensionality, to bring the Pre-Raphaelite painter’s composition to life in new ways.” You only have to look at Alfred Silvester’s The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf) (detail, below) to understand what Jacobi is proposing.

The actuality and presence of figures and contexts. This is why this form of photography retains its undoubted fascination.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. My apologies for some of the small images in the posting, that was all I could get!

 

‘Poor man’s picture gallery’: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography is the first display in a major British art gallery devoted to early three-dimensional photography. These ingenious but inexpensive stereograph pictures were a nineteenth century craze, circulating world-wide in tens of thousands and more. Pioneers of the art form were quick to challenge fine art itself. Celebrated canvases of the age, such as Henry Wallis’s Chatterton and William Powell Frith’s Derby Day, were recreated in real depth.

This display brings twelve of Tate’s Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite works face to face with a rare collection of their three-dimensional doubles assembled by Brian May. Viewers can finally appreciate the interpretations that the photographers explored and the ways they brought the paintings to life. This display has been curated by Carol Jacobi with Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin. The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Stereoscopy versus Paintings in the Victorian Era by Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin is published 20 October 2014 by the London Stereoscopic Company.

Text from the Tate Britain website

 

 

“Holmes’s 1859 article confirms that, in its earliest moment, stereography was thought of in relation to realist painting. “The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced,” he declared, “the mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture.” He provides a sophisticated understanding of the artistic possibilities of the precocious technology, at the date at which the stereographs on display at Tate Britain were made, but it is the stereographs themselves which bear this out.”

 

“Many artists, such as Leonardo da Vinci, understood that the world appears to us in three dimensions because our two eyes see from two slightly different angles (look at your hand with one eye covered, then the other eye covered, and you will see it move and alter slightly). Our mind combines these two views to perceive depth. Leonardo concluded that even the most realistic painting, being just one view, can only be experienced in two dimensions.

Nearly 350 years later, in London, the Victorian scientist Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) took up the challenge. In 1838, he showed that a pair of two-dimensional pictures represented from slightly different viewpoints, brought together in his ‘stereoscope’, could appear three-dimensional. William Fox Talbot announced his technique of print photography a few months later and soon photographs were being taken in pairs for this purpose. Within a decade special cameras and viewers were invented; stereoscopes and stereographs were soon available worldwide. In 1859, Oliver Wendell Holmes’s essay The Stereoscope and the Stereograph celebrated the invention:

The two eyes see different pictures of the same thing, for the obvious reason that they look from points two or three inches apart. By means of these two different views of an object, the mind, as it were, feels round it and gets an idea of its solidity. We clasp an object with our eyes, as with our arms, or with our hands.

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Stereographs sold for a few shillings and people of all classes collected them for education and for pleasure. Small hand-held stereoscopes allowed them to gaze on faraway countries, mechanical inventions, comic incidents, beauty spots, zoological or botanical specimens or celebrity weddings, in the comfort of their homes. Three-dimensional images of famous sculptures were especially successful and Dr Brian May’s and Denis Pellerin’s new book, The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Stereoscopy versus Paintings in the Victorian Era (2014) has drawn attention to stereophotographers’ engagement with famous paintings of the age. Tate Britain’s display of some of the stereographs in Brian May’s collection creates a dialogue between these and celebrated Tate works, six of which are discussed here. It also introduces the photographers who, with rapidity and invention, took up this new medium.

The phrase ‘poor man’s picture gallery’, borrowed from print-making, appeared in The Times newspaper in 1858 in an article speculating on making stereographs of ‘our most remarkable pictures’. The writer did not think of these as mere imitations: “So solid and apparently real”, they would have “added a charm never dreamt of by their producers”, the original artists. Interestingly, the writer was discussing attempts to make stereographs from the paintings themselves because, he or she regretted, that such elaborate compositions could never be recreated in real life; “No exertion could gather together the characters with the requisite expression and all the adjuncts of suitable scenery… and retain them still until they were fixed by the camera’. This assertion was incorrect.”

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Henry Wallis (1830-1916) 'Chatterton' 1856

 

Henry Wallis (1830-1916)
Chatterton
1856
Oil paint on canvas
622 x 933 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Charles Gent Clement 1899

 

James Robinson. 'The Death of Chatterton' 1859

 

James Robinson
The Death of Chatterton
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

James Robinson. 'The Death of Chatterton' 1859 (detail)

 

James Robinson
The Death of Chatterton (detail)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

One of the most famous paintings of Victorian times was Chatterton, 1856 (Tate) by the young Pre-Raphaelite-style artist, Henry Wallis (1830-1916). Again, the tale of the suicide of the poor poet, Thomas Chatterton, exposed as a fraud for faking medieval histories and poems to get by, had broad appeal. Chatterton was also an 18th-century figure, but Wallis set his picture in a bare attic overlooking the City of London which evoked the urban poverty of his own age. The picture toured the British Isles and hundreds of thousands flocked to pay a shilling to view it. One of these was James Robinson, who saw the painting when it was in Dublin. He immediately conceived a stereographic series of Chatterton’s life. Unfortunately Robinson started with Wallis’s scene (The Death of Chatterton, 1859). Within days of its publication, legal procedures began, claiming his picture threatened the income of the printmaker who had the lucrative copyright to publish engravings of the painting. The ensuing court battles were the first notorious copyright cases. Robinson lost, but strangely, in 1861, Birmingham photographer Michael Burr published variations of Death of Chatterton with no problems. No other photographer was ever prosecuted for staging a stereoscopic picture after a painting and the market continued to thrive…

Robinson’s The Death of Chatterton illustrates the way this uncanny quality [the ability to record reality in detail] distinguishes the stereograph from even the immaculate Pre-Raphaelite style of Wallis’s painting of the same subject. The stereograph represented a young man in 18th-century costume on a bed. The backdrop was painted, but the chest, discarded coat and candle were real. Again, the light and colour appear crude in comparison with the painting but the stereoscope records ‘every stick, straw, scratch’ in a manner that the painting cannot. The torn paper pieces, animated by their three-dimensionality, trace the poet’s recent agitation, while the candle smoke, representing his extinguished life, is different in each photograph due to their being taken at separate moments. The haphazard creases of the bed sheet are more suggestive of restless movement, now stilled, than Wallis’s elegant drapery. Even the individuality of the boy adds potency to his death.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Michael Burr. 'Hearts are Trumps' 1866

 

Michael Burr
Hearts are Trumps
1866
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Michael Burr. 'Hearts are Trumps' (detail) 1866

Michael Burr. 'Hearts are Trumps' (detail) 1866

 

Michael Burr
Hearts are Trumps (details)
1866
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

Stereographic techniques of arranging real figures in compositions that were at once carefully composed and naturally spontaneous were particularly pertinent to Pre-Raphaelite painters, who observed and used friends and acquaintances as models in inventive and expressive new poses. Michael Burr was skilled at intimate scenes; The Death of Chatterton was typical of his use of an unusually shallow, portrait-like space. In 1866, Burr’s Hearts are Trumps photographed three women in modern dress. They interact casually around a card table, and one regards us directly, but they are at the same time artfully positioned equally close the picture plane. This created a natural effect while keeping them the same length from the camera to avoid the distortions that a lens gives to near objects at different distances. Six years on, Sir John Everett Millais adapted the stereograph’s composition in his own Hearts are Trumps (1872, Tate). He might have incorporated its informal effect to challenge accusations that had recently appeared in the press that he could not represent modern beauties in contemporary fashion. The life-like size of Millais’s image fills the field of vision with the same impact that the encompassing scene presents in the stereoscope…

Millais’s Hearts are Trumps may have nodded to the alternative stereographic art form, but it did not defer to it. His colour harmonies are infinitely more nuanced than Burr’s hand-tinted photograph. The brushwork whips up extra vivacity and asserts the painter’s individual touch. Nonetheless, Oliver Wendell Holmes argued that stereography had its own artistic possibilities:

The very things which an artist would leave out, or render imperfectly, the photograph takes infinite care with; there will be incidental truths which interest us more than the central object of the picture… every stick, straw, scratch…look at the lady’s hands. You will very probably find the young countess is a maid-of-all-work.

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Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt '
Hearts are Trumps' 1872

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt
Hearts are Trumps
1872
Oil on canvas
1657 x 2197 mm
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1945

 

In its style, which recalls the works of the eighteenth-century painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, and in its flattering depiction of the fashionable sitters, this picture expresses a gentle and nostalgic vision of family life. Elizabeth, Diana and Mary, daughters of Walter Armstrong of Scotland and London, were in their twenties when Millais painted them. Mary holds most of the trumps and looks towards the viewer. Delicately, the card game hints at sisterly competition in husband-finding.

 

William Powell Frith. 'Dolly Varden' c. 1842-9

 

William Powell Frith
Dolly Varden
c. 1842-9
Oil on wood
273 x 216 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Mrs E.J. Thwaites 1955

 

The delightfully fluttery Dolly Varden is a character in Charles Dickens’ novel Barnaby Rudge, published in 1841. Its action is set in the London of the 1780s. Dickens describes Dolly, daughter of a worthy locksmith, as “the very pink and pattern of good looks, in a smart little cherry coloured mantle.” This work, apart from drawing on a well-known novel of the day, also owes much to a strong nineteenth-century tradition of ‘fancy portraits’ – where likenesses of pretty and anonymous young women would be graced by the names of characters from literature.

 

Frederic Jones. 'Dolly Varden' 1858

 

Frederic Jones
Dolly Varden
1858
Albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

The problems and possibilities of realism were fundamental to 19th-century science and literature as well as the arts. It underpinned the dialogue between painters and stereographers. Even painted subjects from history and literature represented by stereographers appear to have been chosen for their familiar, everyday aspects. This shared realism reflected and therefore appealed to 19th-century audiences and was essential to the medium’s success. In 1854 The London Stereoscopic Company was set up on Oxford Street to sell stereographs and stereoscopes. Its first catalogue (1856) advertised scenes as ‘Miscellaneous Subjects of the “Wilkie” character’, referring to the most famous genre painter of the day, Sir David Wilkie. Wilkie’s younger rival, William Powell Frith (1819-1909), and Welsh photographer Frederic Jones (1827 – date not known), a manager of the London Stereographic Company, recreated one of his most popular paintings, Dolly Varden. Frith’s composition was taken in turn from Charles Dickens’s (1812 – 1870) classic realist novel Barnaby Rudge (1841). It drew on the popularity of the author and book, and was intended to reach a similarly broad audience in the form of engraved prints. Although Dickens’s story was set in the 18th-century, the episode Frith chose, in which Dolly came across a man when she was alone in the woods and laughed bravely, appealed to modern preoccupations with women’s vulnerability and independence. Both Frith’s and Jones’s pictures placed the viewer in the position of the approaching man, but only Jones’s three-dimensional Dolly offered the spectator the opportunity to “clasp an object with our eyes, as with our arms, or with our hands,” as Holmes put it, as her predator does in the book. Fortunately, Dolly eventually eluded his attentions.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

William Collins. 'Happy as a King' (replica) c. 1836

 

William Collins
Happy as a King (replica)
c. 1836
Oil paint on canvas
711 x 914 mm
Tate. Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

 

Michael Burr. 'Happy as a King' 1865

 

Michael Burr (1826-1912)
Happy as a King
1865
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Michael Burr. 'Happy as a King' (detail) 1865

 

Michael Burr (1826-1912)
Happy as a King (detail)
1865
Hand coloured albumen prints on stereo card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

Astronomer and Queen‘s guitarist, Dr Brian May has lent a rare collection of Victorian stereographic photographs to Tate Britain. They are featured in ‘Poor man’s picture gallery’: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography until 12 April 2015. This is the first display in a major British art gallery devoted to the nineteenth-century craze of three-dimensional photography, known as stereographs, and open up this neglected area of British art.

In the 1850s and 1860s pioneer photographers staged real men, women and children in tableaux based on famous paintings of the day, in order to bring them to life as three-dimensional scenes. Henry Wallis’ Chatterton 1856, William Powell Frith’s Derby Day 1857 and John Everett Millais’ The Order of Release 1746 are among twelve of Tate’s famous Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite paintings to be shown with their 3D hand-coloured photographic equivalents.

Stereographs comprise two photographs of the same scene taken from fractionally different viewpoints. When these are mounted side by side and viewed through a stereoscope, the viewer sees just one three-dimensional image. Stereographs were inexpensive, and in the 1850s and 1860s they circulated world-wide in their tens of thousands. Many Victorians became familiar with well-known paintings through their stereoscopic counterparts which became known as a ‘Poor Man’s Picture Gallery’. The photographs were regarded by many as fairly disposable, making them hard to track down today.

The display introduces important figures in stereoscopic photography such as Alexis Gaudin and Michael Burr, and shows how some of their innovations also inspired painters. Burr’s stereograph Hearts are Trumps 1866 anticipated John Everett Millais’ voluptuous painting with the same title six years later, and James Elliott’s Derby Day, One Week after the Derby 1858, pre-empted Robert Martineau’s renowned oil painting of family ruin, The Last Day in the Old Home 1862.

Dr Brian May, said: “We’re thrilled that for the very first time Stereographs are now on view at Tate. In this unique display they can be viewed in their full 3-D splendour alongside the beautiful Victorian narrative paintings to which they relate. We’re grateful to Tate Britain, and hope to inspire a new love of stereoscopy in the 21st Century.”

Carol Jacobi, Curator, British Art, 1850-1915, Tate Britain said: “This display allows us to consider the works in Tate’s collection in a new light. We are delighted to be collaborating with Dr Brian May, who has built this collection over 40 years, and with Denis Pellerin, who has researched the connections.”

The photographs exhibited in this display at Tate Britain are kindly lent by Dr Brian May. This display has been curated by Carol Jacobi with Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin. The book The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Stereoscopy versus Paintings in the Victorian Era by Dr Brian May and Denis Pellerin is published by the London Stereoscopic Company on 20 October 2014.”

Press release from Tate Britain

 

Charles Robert Leslie. 'A Scene from Tristram Shandy ('Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman')' 1829-30

 

Charles Robert Leslie
A Scene from Tristram Shandy (‘Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman’)
1829-30, exhibited 1831
Oil paint on canvas
813 x 559 mm
Tate. Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

 

Anonymous. 'Uncle Toby' Nd

 

Anonymous
Uncle Toby
Nd
Albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt. 'The Order of Release 1746' 1852-3

 

Sir John Everett Millais, Bt
The Order of Release 1746
1852-3
Oil on canvas
1029 x 737 mm
Tate. Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1898

 

 

In 1855, the French photographer Alexis Gaudin (1816–1894) saw the Scottish scene from the Jacobite Rebellion, The Order of Release, 1746 by John Everett Millais(1829-1896), at the first Exposition Universelle in Paris. A woman carrying a sleeping child comforts her wounded husband, a defeated rebel, while handing an order for his release to a gaoler. Shortly afterwards, Gaudin made a stereograph, the rare surviving examples of which bear no title, which posed a young woman, child and two men in the same attitudes (Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release, c. 1855).

Millais’s subject may have appealed to the Frenchman because of its theme of revolution (the Jacobites had been supported by France) and he may have hoped to capitalise on the painting’s popular success. It is notable too, however, that the picture is an example of Pre-Raphaelite realism, not just in appearance, but in the emotions expressed in pose and expression. Millais’s figures were, moreover, renowned as portraits of real people. Pre-Raphaelite painting was a challenge to photography, which Gaudin took up.

Gaudin’s stereograph was not a copy of Millais’s composition; it was a response to it. His image combined a backdrop painted in the conventional way behind the figures with real furniture and a door jutting out in front. Such round and rectangular geometric objects became common in stereographs because they created clear three-dimensional shapes. Like Millais, Gaudin used real models. They express the sternness, despair and stoicism of the gaoler, soldier and wife. The child’s bare legs and feet and head dropping on the mother’s shoulder indicate that s/he is sleeping, innocent of the tense exchange. The dog is probably an example of taxidermy as a real one is unlikely to have stayed still while the photograph, which would have been exposed over several seconds, was taken. Since they were taken and developed, the pictures have been hand-coloured.

Differences between the painting and the stereograph adapted Millais’s image to the new medium and new ideas. The gaoler could be resting the hand holding the order against the rebel’s shoulder to avoid moving and blurring the image, or Gaudin may have liked the juxtaposition of the document of release with the window indicating the outside world. The little dog is less romanticised than Millais’s loyal, silky specimen. It would have been recognisable at the time as a typical British terrier breed, a working dog similar to Bullseye, familiar from Phiz’s illustrations to Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1837). This proletarian touch is compounded by the dog’s apparent interest in the empty food bowl.

Gaudin’s image could conjure reality in ways not available to Millais. Unlike painting, stereographs exclude things outside the frame. When the eyes come close to the stereoscope lenses and manage to bring the image into focus they experience the sudden sensation of being in the picture. Even the tiny scale of the scenes imitates the scale at which distant objects are experienced in life (to get a sense of this, look at a person on the other side of the room and holding your hand near your eye line up your forefinger with their head and your thumb with their feet). This characteristic provided Gaudin with a different way to explore Millais’s theme of imprisonment. The painter created an enclosed feeling for the viewer with a claustrophobic shadowy shallow space. The stereographer used a deeper room so that when seen through the viewer the figure, and the viewer, are enclosed within its walls.

Stereography was a new art. Gaudin’s stereograph can be seen exploring its distinctive characteristics, the actuality of figures and its immersive three-dimensionality, to bring the Pre-Raphaelite painter’s composition to life in new ways. This complexity was admired at the time: “It is a mistake to suppose one knows a stereoscopic picture when he has studied it a hundred times,” Holmes advised. Tate Britain’s display provides the opportunity to view originals with and without the stereoscopic viewer, and examine and appreciate their distinctive approach.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Alexis Gaudin. 'Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release' c. 1855

 

Alexis Gaudin
Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release
c. 1855
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alexis Gaudin. 'Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release' (detail) c. 1855

 

Alexis Gaudin
Untitled, after Millais, The Order of Release (detail)
c. 1855
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Philip Hermogenes Calderon. 'Broken Vows' 1856

 

Philip Hermogenes Calderon
Broken Vows
1856
Oil paint on canvas
914 x 679 mm
Tate, purchased 1947

 

James Elliott. 'Broken Vows' Nd

 

James Elliott
Broken Vows
Nd
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

James Elliott. 'Broken Vows' (detail) Nd

 

James Elliott
Broken Vows (detail)
Nd
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

William Powell Frith. 'The Derby Day' 1856-8

 

William Powell Frith
The Derby Day
1856-8
Oil paint on canvas
1016 x 2235 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Jacob Bell 1859

 

 

When The Derby Day was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858, it proved so popular that a rail had to be put up to keep back the crowds. It presents a panorama of modern Victorian life, a previously unknown genre which Frith largely created in his earlier work, Life at the Seaside, Ramsgate Sands of 1854 (Royal Collection). Frith was a firm believer in the spurious sciences of phrenology and social type, which considered people’s characters and social origins were visible in their physical features. Each character in Frith’s picture is depicted to conform to these stereotypes, notably in the range of criminal and low-life types present (see Cowling 1989, Ch.2).

On the basis of an initial sketch, which he made after a visit to Epsom in 1856, Frith was commissioned by Jacob Bell, a chemist and amateur artist, to paint a large 5-6 foot canvas for £1,500. He worked on the project for fifteen months, producing two large sketches in addition to the finished work. He brought the composition together with the aid of drawings and sketches, hiring models to pose for all the main figures. He also commissioned the photographer Robert Howlett to “photograph for him from the roof of a cab as many queer groups of figures as he could” (Journal of the Photographic Society, 15 January 1863). He asked a real jockey called Bundy to pose on a hobbyhorse in his studio for the riders on the right of the picture, and also hired an acrobat and his son, whom he saw performing in a pantomime in Drury Lane. For the remaining figures he called on family and friends, as well as a string of young women sent by Jacob Bell.

Despite a remarkable feat of organisation, the picture remains fairly static, and the figures are more interesting when examined individually. There are three main incidents taking place in the picture. On the far left, next to the Reform Club’s private tent, a group of men in top hats focus on the thimble-rigger with his table, inviting the audience to participate in the game. The man taking a note from his pocket is the trickster’s accomplice. He is tempting the rustic-looking man in a smock, whose wife is trying to restrain him. On the right of this group, another man, with his hands in his pockets, has had his gold watch stolen by the man behind. In the centre of the picture we see the acrobat and his son, who looks longingly over at a sumptuous picnic being laid out by a footman. Behind them are carriages filled with race-goers, including a courtesan on the far right, who is the kept mistress of the foppish-looking character leaning against the carriage. The courtesan is balanced on the far left of the picture by the woman in a dark riding habit, one of a number of high-class prostitutes who daily paraded on horseback in Hyde Park.

Text from the Tate website

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class)' 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class)' (detail) 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Rail Second Class) (detail)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf)' 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

Alfred Silvester. 'The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf)' (detail) 1859

 

Alfred Silvester 
The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (The Turf) (detail)
1859
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

The relationship between photography and painting went two ways. In the mid 1850s, Frith began to use photographs to help him paint elaborate and up-to-date scenes on a very large scale. Lively descriptions of racegoers at Epsom often appeared in popular magazines such as Punch (1949) and Dickens’s Household Words (Epsom, 1852) and between 1856 and 1858 he created a panorama of the crowds, Derby Day (Tate). It caused a sensation. Its quality of reflecting its modern audience is clear from a contemporary comment from the Birmingham Daily Post:

Frith’s picture will conjure around it as great a crowd of gazers as any to be found even on the most crowded part of the racecourse.

.
Stereography had the potential to take the viewer inside the crowd’s jostling and excitement. “The elbow of a figure stands forth so as to make us almost uncomfortable,” as Holmes observed. To this end, the London photographer Alfred Silvester (1831-1886) published two series based on the Epsom Races, National Sports, The Race-course of which there are several variations echoing the different scenes within Frith’s painting, and The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day (1859) a series of five. They were the portrait shape required by the stereoscope rather than panoramas like Frith’s painting, but Silvester squeezed in dozens of people. The Turf (below) contained an astonishing 60 gesticulating figures in front of a painted backdrop of more distant crowds. Carriage wheels and cylindrical top hats occupy the foregrounds to enhance the three-dimensional effect.

Silvester expanded Frith’s narrative in time as well as content (moving pictures were still 40 years away). The Road, the Rail, the Turf, the Settling Day began with the exodus from London to Epsom Downs and ended with the settlement of bets. This narrative momentum was complemented by motion within the pictures. In The Road, aristocrats ride in their fine carriages while in The Rail (Second Class) (above) and The Rail (Third Class) the less well-to-do travel on the new railway from London Bridge to Sutton, opened in 1847. The Turf shows three horses (sculpted from papier mâché and rather reminiscent of those in the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum) plunging headlong through the crowd. Further movement is contributed by the people. In each, Silvester orchestrated incessant activity in poses which betray no hint that they were held for several seconds. The Turf is the most spectacular, where all 60 people cheer and gesticulate. In The Rail (Second Class) a man kneels solicitously offering refreshment to a woman who appears to have fainted. Her child and others look on while an older gentleman (whose covered nose suggests he may be suffering from syphilis) shows his disapproval. The action continues into depth; in the background two men fight with bottles and a white top-hatted figure looms troublingly over a young girl.

Such photographs informed and challenged the naturalism of Frith’s painting and influenced others of the period. William Maw Egley’s (1826-1916) Omnibus Life in London (1859, below) depicted the discomforts, intrusions and intrigues of mass transport from a viewpoint within – or just outside – the carriage (an omnibus in this case, introduced 1826) which envelops the observer in a similar manner to Silvester’s The Rail (Second Class).

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

William Maw Egley. 'Omnibus Life in London' 1859

 

William Maw Egley
Omnibus Life in London
1859
Oil on canvas
448 x 419 mm
Tate. Bequeathed by Miss J. L. R. Blaker 1947

 

 

The painting of modern-life subjects was popularised during the 1850s by such artists as William Frith (1819-1909). Artists deliberately chose subjects such as racetracks, seaside resorts and busy streets where all classes of society could be represented in the one picture. Following this trend, Egley exhibited Omnibus Life in London at the British Institution in 1859. He may have been inspired by the French artist Honoré Daumier’s pictures of the cramped interior of railway carriages, but comparisons can also be drawn with such works as Charles Rossiter’s To Brighton and Back for 3s 6d (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery), painted in the same year as Egley’s picture.

The omnibus – a horse-drawn carriage that picked up and deposited people along an established route – was introduced into London on 4 July 1829 and quickly became a popular mode of transport. One observer commented that, “Among the middle classes of London the omnibus stands immediately after air, tea, and flannel, in the list of the necessaries of life… the Londoner cannot get on without it.” (M.E. Purgini in Victorian Days and Ways, London 1936). To achieve as authentic an effect as possible, Egley painted the interior of the omnibus in a coachbuilder’s yard in Paddington. The view out of the back of the bus is of Westbourne Grove, painted from the chemist’s shop at the corner of Hereford Road where Egley lived. He posed the sitters in a makeshift ‘carriage’ constructed from boxes and planks in his back garden.

Egley painted the scene as if glimpsed through a window and attempted to convey the claustrophobic and cramped conditions that the passengers were forced to endure. The subject permitted him to portray every class of society, from an old country woman, perhaps a family servant, with her piles of baggage, to the city clerk with his cane. The old woman stares sympathetically towards the young mother and her children, who avert their gazes, in a gesture of gentility. The mother was modelled on Egley’s wife and the ringletted daughter was posed for by a twelve-year old girl, Susannah (Blanche) Rix.

Egley worked on the picture for 44 days and sold it to a man called William Jennings for £52 10s. It was described by the Illustrated London News as follows: “a droll interior, the stern and trying incidents of which will be recognized by thousands of weary wayfarers through the streets of London.”

Text from the Tate website

 

James Elliott. 'The Last Look' 1858

 

James Elliott
The Last Look
1858
Two photographs, hand-tinted albumen prints on paper mounted on card
Collection Dr Brian May

 

 

Similarly, a series by James Elliott (1833-?) charting the aftermath of the Derby appears to have pre-empted The Last Day in the Old Home 1862 (Tate, below) by Robert Braithwaite Martineau (1826-1869). Elliott’s One Week after the Derby extended Frith’s Derby Day into the future to show an auctioneer assessing the belongings of a family ruined by the races. The Last Look (above) shows them leaving their house. Lot numbers have been attached to the furniture and in the background a servant, who has also lost her home, weeps. A horse print on the floor hints at the husband’s extravagant habits and only the grandmother, wife and daughter look back with regret. The last picture, Sold Up, shows the auction. The doll’s house which the little girl must to leave behind, a miniature replica of her home and her aspirations for the future is placed poignantly in the foreground. These narratives and motifs had been widely used in literature and cartoons since the time of William Hogarth, but Martineau’s image of a middle-class family forced to sell their home is close to Elliott’s The Last Look. Martineau adopted a photographic composition, figures enclosed within a room cluttered with clues to both narrative and depth. A stereograph-style view into another space shows men assessing possessions. Lot numbers are attached to the furniture. Another horse image suggests gambling. Once more, the women show regret while the husband appears unconcerned, cheerily leading his son down the same path.

Extract from the essay by Carol Jacobi. “Tate Painting and the Art of Stereoscopic Photography,” on the Tate website 17th October, 2014 [Online] Cited 14/02/2015

 

Robert Braithwaite Martineau. 'The Last Day in the Old Home' 1862

 

Robert Braithwaite Martineau
The Last Day in the Old Home
1862
Oil on canvas
1073 x 1448 mm
Tate. Presented by E.H. Martineau 1896

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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