Howlett's portrait of Brunel

Can anyone tell me how well-known Robert Howlett's portrait of Brunel in front of the launching chains of the Great Eastern was in its/his/their own day? Was it reproduced or published as an engraving before 1900? Or is its celebrity a creation of 20th century histories of photography? Hopefully Giles Hudson

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  • Giles--

    If you go to the collections database at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you'll find a listing for this image.  It states that the print in the museum's collection "...which bears Brunel's facsimile signature, was published as a memento in 1863-64, after the deaths of photographer and subject."

    Combined with the distribution of this image as a carte de visite, in stereo (a variant angle) and in the form of wood engravings, the production of a posthumous edition of albumen prints indicates that this was in fact a well-known image in its day. 

  • Hi Giles

    Remember the general background to photographic reproduction at the time: halftone printing  --  the first method by which photographic reproduction entered into news and magazine publishing  --  didn't really make an impact before the early 1880s and didn't become widespread 'til the 1890s, by which time Howlett's photo would have been over 30 years old and no longer in the news. Before then the engraving Helen mentioned would have been the only way this or any other image would have become truly popularly known (i.e. in widely disseminated media). Of course biographies and other monographs would have had the occasional plate (gravure printed?), but these would have been relatively expensive and not widely available books  --  cheap, mass-market books didn't have integral photos until well into the 20th century.

  • Hi Giles, i have quite a number of late 19th century photographic books, and i cannot find any publication of this very famous photo, with that wonderful hat.

    I'm interested to know why you have asked the question.

    I've used this photo many times as an illustration when giving talks on the history of photography.






    Sorry for the late reply, as I'm only just beginning to fully explore the forum pages of this site.


    The National Portrait Gallery holds an engraving by Horace Harral based on Howlett's famous photograph. The engraving was certainly published in the Illustrated London News on 16 January 1858. I think its safe to say the image was well known and distributed widely at the time.


    Best wishes,



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