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NPG acquires a rare album from Rejlander 'the father of art photography'

An extremely rare and important album of photographs by the celebrated early Victorian photographer, Oscar Gustav Rejlander, most of which have never been exhibited before, has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, it was announced today, Monday, 9 May 2016. BPH reported on the original auction sale and export ban here.

The album was acquired in November 2015 following receipt of a grant from the Art Fund after a temporary Export Bar was placed on it in March 2015. This prevented the album from leaving the UK after it was sold to an overseas buyer last year.

The scarcity and remarkable condition of the album, which was sold by a Yorkshire auction house after lying undiscovered in a family collection for more than 140 years, make it one of the most significant 19th century British photographic objects to have come to light in recent decades.

Rejlander is best known for his pionering work combining multiple negatives in the darkroom to create new, articifial compostions. He was also a portraitist of extraordinary skill who influenced famous photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll and who also collaborated with Charles Darwin and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The National Portrait Gallery album is one of a small set of private albums Rejlander put together to showcase his portrait work.

Previously unseen photographs include several self-portraits, comprising one of Rejlander himself, taken in the 1850s, as well as a previously unknown portrait of Rejlander and his wife Mary Bull (a frequent collaborator and model for her husband).

Rejlander photographed numerous illustrious sitters during his career, several of which feature in the album. They include the poet and dramatist Sir Henry Taylor and the Hon. Lionel Tennyson, grandson of the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. The album also features a small number of well-known genre photographs, including ‘Trying to Catch a Fly’, ‘The Infant Photography Gives Painting a New Brush’ and ‘Head of St John the Baptist in a Charger’.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London says: “We are delighted to welcome this album into the Gallery’s Collection, not least because it will provide access to important examples of portraiture from the history of photography. We also hope it will enable visitors to engage with Victorian photography in a new way and make comparisons with later developments.”

Dr Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “The Rejlander album becomes one of the jewels in the crown of our already impressive collection of 19th century photographs. It transforms the way we think about one of Britain’s great artists. And it contains some of the most beautiful and expressive portraits of the Victorian era.

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, says, “This is an excellent addition to the National Portrait Gallery’s 19th-century collections and displays and we’re delighted to have helped make the acquisition happen.

The Rejlander album will be on display in the Gallery in October 2016.

Background

Oscar Gustav Rejlander is believed to have been born in Sweden and studied art in Rome, working there as both a photographer and as a portrait painter and copyist of old master paintings. He established a photographic studio in Wolverhampton around 1846, moving to London in 1862 where he would work for the rest of his career.

The precise dates at which Rejlander began to exhibit his photographs is unclear, however it was no later than 1855, since he won a bronze medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition that same year. From that time until his death in 1875, his work was regularly exhibited and reviewed in the photographic and periodical press, earning him a reputation as one of Britain’s leading photographers. The range of his work includes portraits, landscapes, nude and anatomical studies and genre subjects.

The National Portrait Gallery holds 15 photographs by Rejlander. Nearly all are small carte-de-viste-albumen prints.

Funding package for the album - total cost £74,651.This is made up of: 

  • £26,862 grant from the Art Fund
  • £35,153 from the Gallery’s own resources (Grant in Aid)
  • £12,600 from individual Gallery supporters

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