British photographic history

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Isabel Agnes Cowper, (1826-1911), South Kensington Museum Official Photographer

I am currently researching the life and work of Isabel Agnes Cowper (1826-1911), the South Kensington Museum's first female Official Museum Photographer and sister of the photographer Charles Thurston Thompson. Cowper lived and worked at the Museum between 1868 and 1891.  She retired to Surrey for 10 years and then moved to Glasgow in 1901 to join her daughter Beatrice Hedley's family.  She died in Glasgow in 1911.

Is anyone aware of  the location of her personal photographs or a portrait of Cowper? 

Many thanks.

Erika Lederman

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Hi, Erika,

I I'm not sure if this will help, but about a year ago i posted this photo of the South Kensington Museum Student art room on this site.

It was published by Cundall, But I was unsure if he was the photographer or publisher.

Several members here have posited that this was taken by Thompson.

It may be earlier than 1868, but not sure.

It has blind stamps from the SK Museum (Loan) and Cundall. I own 2 other similar images of different student art rooms.

Let me know if you need more information.

Kind Regards,


Dear David,

Many thanks for your reply.  Yes, thank you, I am aware of this series of photographs.  We have a few images taken in this room here at the V&A, in the photographs collection.  If I remember correctly, I checked the negative register on these and it's pretty clear they were taken by Cowper.  But I'll have to reconfirm.  Many thanks for the reply.  I'm hoping to find evidence of Cowper's works in other collections, also, an image of Cowper or some of her private photographs....that would be fantastic.

Thanks again,


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