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Exhibition: Permanent Olive Edis galleries open at Cromer Museum

A new display celebrating the life and artistic legacy of Olive Edis officially opens at Cromer Museum on Wednesday 29 March, following the success of of a major exhibition at Norwich Castle. The same day a new touring exhibition, The Road to Ypres, exploring Edis’ war photography opens at the North Norfolk District Council offices, the first stop in an extensive tour to venues around Norfolk and beyond.

The new galleries and the touring exhibition are the culmination of the Heritage Lottery Fund supported Olive Edis project to raise awareness of this remarkable woman. They follow on from the ground-breaking showing of her work in the exhibition Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis which ran at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery from 8 October 2016 to 22 January 2017, attracting over 50,000 visitors.

Olive Edis was one of the most important photographers of the early 20th century. At the height of her career she photographed the full spectrum of British society, from local fishermen and their families to prime ministers, royalty, scientists and artists. She was an exceptional portrait artist, a pioneer of new technologies, a successful business owner, and the first British woman to be appointed as an official war photographer.

Now, for the first time, the opening of Fishermen & Kings: The new Olive Edis Galleries, provides a permanent tribute to this fine artist, and a rich resource for the public who want to explore her work in more depth.

The new galleries include:

  • An overview of Olive’s life, work, studios (including those at Cromer and Sheringham) and photographic techniques
  • Original prints on display, including examples of both local and famous sitters, alongside framed reproductions, graphic panels, digital slideshows and large-scale reproductions on canvas – representing her full range of subjects
  • Reproductions of prints from the Imperial War Museum and National Portrait Gallery collections of Edis’ work
  • Photographs from her commission as Britain’s first female war photographer
  • A display of Edis’ cameras in a custom-built case, including her large plate camera ‘The Countess’ mounted on its tripod
  • Reproductions of autochromes displayed on wall-mounted lightboxes and in an original Edis diascope, to show them, respectively, at their best and as they would have originally been viewed


And in a lovely marriage of historic and contemporary image-making, a touchscreen interactive will allow visitors to browse the full Edis collection of over 2000 images online, and add comments and tags to individual photographs. Curators are hoping the public may even be able to help them identify sitters and give more information, especially on photos of local people.

Visitors will also be able to listen to an actress reading extracts from Edis’ fascinating war diary along with a slideshow of her war photos. Three short films about Edis exploring her techniques and achievements, specially created by Paston Sixth Form College students, will also be available to watch in the galleries and can be viewed online here:

Cromer Museum is a fitting location for the world’s first centre dedicated to Edis’ work, given her long association with this part of Norfolk. Edis died in 1955, leaving the contents of her studio to her assistant Cyril Nunn who cared for the collection until it was acquired by Cromer Museum in 2008.

In the 60 years since her death Edis has been largely forgotten by history, and her huge contribution to British photography sadly overlooked. Thanks to the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Olive Edis Project at Cromer Museum can now redress this, working to raise awareness of Edis’ work and give her inspirational story the recognition it deserves.

Curator Alistair Murphy, said: “Olive Edis was a remarkable woman. She was well-educated, forward thinking, a visionary, an astute business entrepreneur and most importantly a talented photographer with a natural affinity for her subjects – however grand or humble each was afforded respect and dignity. Like the many influential and inspirational women that she photographed, Edis was herself a “new woman”.

“Edis’ photographic legacy is a ‘national treasure’ and we are delighted to be able to open these new galleries dedicated to her life and work, to continue to spread the word about her unique legacy and importance to as wide an audience as possible.

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: “Olive Edis’ work spans social, gender and geographical boundaries to provide an incredible glimpse into the personal world of her subjects, particularly those who were affected by the First World War. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players we are thrilled to support this project which will finally provide her inspirational story with the recognition it deserves.”

See more about Cromer Museum here:

Images: © Norfolk Museums Service (Cromer Museum)

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