Some of the earliest surviving colour photographs – which turned up in a cupboard in Hampshire – have now gone on show to the public for the first time.

The 700 ‘forgotten’ autochromes, each found wrapped in newspaper, were captured by Lionel de Rothschild, a banker who experimented with the process between 1908-1912.

Hailed as the country’s largest collection of autochromes they lay languishing in darkness in Exbury House, Hampshire until they were discovered by Lionel’s grandson.

The autochrome process was the first practical system of colour photography.

It was invented in 1903 by Auguste and Louis Lumière who, four years later, introduced autochrome plates they made at their base in Lyons, France. The plates had to be examined through a viewer.

The treasure trove includes what is believed to be the earliest surviving colour photo of King Edward VII in Highland costume, dating from September 1909.

‘It’s hard to explain the quality of the colour and imagine the astonishment when autochromes were first displayed,’ said Victor Gray, co-ordinator of an upcoming exhibition of the photos.

‘The plates have been cleaned and conserved and, as soon as they are lit, they release the image of a world remote to us in time and style, yet dressed in the same colours as the world around us today,’ he added.

The Colours of Another Age exhibition runs at Exbury from 1 May-27 September. For details call 023 8089 1203. Visit

? For more on this story see the printed version of Amateur Photographer magazine which goes on sale on Tuesdays


Picture: This image of Lionel de Rothschild’s fiancee, Marie-Louise Beer, was captured in 1912. However, other images in the collection are believed to date back to 1908

Autochrome images

Credit: The Rothschild Archive