Rejlander album saved by the NPG

10 May 2016

Industry news

© National Portrait Galley / Oscar Rejlander The work of a former Society member has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. The rare and important album of photographs is by the celebrated Victorian photographer, Oscar Gustav Rejlander, and most of the images have never been exhibited before. Rejlander joined the Photographic Society (later, the Royal) in 1856 and, other than for a short break, remained a member until his death in 1875. 

The album was acquired in November 2015 following receipt of a grant from the Art Fund after a temporary Export Bar was placed on it in March 2015. This prevented the album from leaving the UK after it was sold to an overseas buyer last year.

The scarcity and remarkable condition of the album which had lain undiscovered in a family collection for more than 140 years, makes it one of the most significant nineteenth century British photographic objects to have come to light in recent decades.

Rejlander is best known for his pioneering work combining multiple negatives in the darkroom to create new, artificial compositions. He was also 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 National Portrait Gallery album is one of a small set of private albums Rejlander put together to showcase his portrait work.

© National Portrait Gallery / Oscar Rejlander. Previously unseen photographs include several self-portraits, comprising one of Rejlander himself, taken in the 1850s, as well as a previously unknown portrait of Rejlander and his wife Mary Bull (a frequent collaborator and model for her husband).

Rejlander photographed numerous illustrious sitters during his career, several of which feature in the album. They include the poet and dramatist Sir Henry Taylor and the Hon. Lionel Tennyson, grandson of the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. The album also features a small number of well-known genre photographs, including ‘Trying to Catch a Fly’, ‘The Infant Photography Gives Painting a New Brush’ and ‘Head of St John the Baptist in a Charger’.

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.

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, 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 funding package for the album which cost a total of £74,651 is made up of: £26,862 grant from the Art Fund, £35,153 from the Gallery’s own resources (Grant in Aid) and £12,600 from individual Gallery supporters.

The Rejlander album will be on display in the Gallery in October 2016. 

Images: © National Portrait Gallery. Oscar Rejlander (1813-1875), Unidentified womanJohn and Minnie Constable looking into the fire ‘All Hallows Eve’ (John Constable, Minnie Constable); Oscar Rejlander and Mary Rejlander (nee Bull)