Saved for nation: Album of Victorian photographer whose darkroom exploits beat Photoshop

May 10, 2016

© National Portrait Gallery, London

The ‘extremely rare and important album’ showcases work by early Victorian photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander – most of which have never been displayed before, says the National Portrait Gallery.

The Swedish-born photographer settled in the UK in the 1840s and was hailed ‘the father of art photography’ for combining several negatives to form a single image.

‘Anticipating Photoshop by more than a century, Rejlander is best known for his pioneering work combining multiple negatives in the darkroom to create new, artificial compositions,’ explained the National Portrait Gallery in a statement.

The gallery’s director Nicholas Cullinan said the acquisition will ‘provide access to important examples of portraiture from the history of photography’.

The album is expected to go on display at the National Portrait Gallery in October.

P2011(5).web© National Portrait Gallery, London

Cullinan added: ‘We also hope it will enable visitors to engage with Victorian photography in a new way and make comparisons with later developments.’

Last year, the Government placed a temporary export ban on the album of 70 photos, which was at risk of ending up overseas if enough money had not been raised to keep it in the UK.

The album was eventually saved for the nation last November, via a £74,651 funding package that included a £26,862 grant from the Art Fund.

The Government had launched an appeal for £82,600, to match the auction price paid by an overseas buyer for the album, which had lain undiscovered in a family collection for more than 140 years.

The National Portrait Gallery described Rejlander as 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 album features previously unseen self-portraits taken in the 1850s and a previously unknown portrait of Rejlander with his wife, Mary Bull.

Speaking last year, Culture minister Ed Vaizey said Rejlander was ‘one of the great pioneers of photography’.

P2011(18).web© National Portrait Gallery, London

P2011(26).web© National Portrait Gallery, London