British photographic history

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Online exhibition: William Van Sommer - Colour in the Garden

William Van Sommer (1859–1941) was a little-known amateur photographer who left behind a unique collection of images of his local Surrey landscape and favourite gardens in colour.

He took his pictures in an era when gardens were known for their waves of colour – for the contrasting shades of their rock gardens and the vibrant hues of their herbaceous borders. Yet the Edwardian garden was seldom captured in colour photography at the time.

Van Sommer’s beautiful ‘autochrome’ pictures provide a rare glimpse of the colours of these gardens of the past. Read on to discover some of the earliest colour images of the great outdoors including the first known colour photographs of RHS Wisley.

Read more about him and see his autochromes here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/digital-collections/william-van-sommer

If anyone has more information about Van Sommer and his photography feel free to contact Sarah McDonald, Heritage Collections Manager at the RHS. 

The exhibition has been created by RHS Lindley Library. Based at the Royal Horticultural Society’s headquarters at Vincent Square in London, the Lindley Library holds a world-class collection of horticultural books, journals and botanical art.

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Comment by Wilson Laidlaw on March 8, 2021 at 7:43

Once lockdown is over, I will have to go with my wife, who is a member of the RHS, to look at this collection. I love Autochromes, so it is very sad that the Musée Albert Kahn in Paris never seems to be open. I have tried three times to visit on the way to my house in France, at times that its website said it would be open but wasn't. I have been told that it is no longer open to the general public, which is a bit pointless for a museum. The gardens are still open https://albert-kahn.hauts-de-seine.fr. For those interested in the history of colour photography, there is a very comprehensive book on the subject called: "Color Mania" published by Lars Müller. However I would warn folks that it is very Swiss and not exactly light reading. It is in English. Wilson

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