National Portrait Gallery acquires photo-album of Oscar Rejlander

The Art Fund helped the gallery to acquire a rare photo-album by the Victorian art photographer.

The album had a long and arduous journey until it reached the National Portrait Gallery. It was gathering dust for almost a century and a half in a family collection, before it was sold by a Yorkshire auction house to an overseas collector. A temporary export bar was placed in March 2015 to prevent it from leaving the country.

The photo-album includes several previously unseen self-portraits, as well as an until recently unknown portrait of Rejlander and his wife, Mary Bull. It also includes a small number of famous genre photographs, like ‘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.'

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander, the 'father of art photography', is said to have been of Swedish origin and studied art in Rome. He worked as a photographer and a portrait painter, as well as copyist of Old Master paintings. He moved to London in 1862, where he would stay for the rest of his career, after running a photographic studio in Wolverhampton since 1846. By the time of his death in 1875, he was considered one of Britain’s greatest photographers.

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.'

Rejlander influenced many renowned photographers, such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll, and worked with Charles Darwin and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He photographed many prominent personalities of the time, including the poet and dramatist Sir Henry Taylor; the actors John and Minnie Constable; and Lionel Tennyson, grandson of Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, 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 at the National Portrait Gallery from October 2016.

Back to top