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Olive Edis

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Olive Edis

by Olive Edis
sepia-toned matte print on photographer's card, 1918
5 1/2 in. x 3 1/8 in. (133 mm x 79 mm)
Photographs Collection
NPG x7960

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 59 Read entry

    Olive Edis grew up in Wimpole Street, London, where her father was a gynaecologist. By the early 1900s she had established herself as a portrait photographer. In 1903 she went into partnership with her sister Katharine (1880-1963), opening a studio in Sheringham, a seaside resort in Norfolk. The sisters specialised in both studio and 'at home' portraits, also photographing local fishermen and celebrities. This partnership was dissolved when Katharine married but Olive kept her Sheringham studio throughout her life. From 1913 to 1933 her professional London address was at 34 Colville Terrace, W11, where she lived with her mother and, after 1928, with her husband Edwin Galsworthy (1861-1947). From 1912 she made autochrome colour photographs of people and flowers, and in 1913 she was one of eight people elected to become a member of the Royal Photographic Society, winning a bronze medal for a portrait which, said the British Journal of Photography, 'was almost equalled, we think, by her "Sweet Peas". As portrait studies either of these will take a good deal of beating, the colour and gradation being almost perfect and extremely delicate in both of them.' In 1914 she became a fellow of the RPS and patented her autochrome viewer - one of which she left in her will, with a selection of her work, to the National Portrait Gallery.

    By the end of World War I Edis was an established colour photographer. This portrait dates from 1918 when she was commissioned by the Government to record the work of the British Women's Services in France and Flanders during the war. Her start was delayed until March 1919, by which time the conflict was over, but nevertheless she covered 2,000 miles in a month of demanding work. She shows herself bending slightly forward over one of the three cameras she took with her on the trip. Her five-string pearl necklace is the same one that she wore in an earlier self-portrait (1912) in the guise of Fortitude. Between July and November 1920 she went to photograph the Rockies. This was a commission from the Canadian Pacific Railway, and she used their specially equipped photographic railway carriage to carry out her work. 'Miss Edis has been very successful in her reproduction of Indian types [Native American Indians], their frill dress regalia are admirably shown.' (Financier, 9 May 1921.) Sadly none of this work has survived.

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 16
  • Rolley, Katrina; Aish, Caroline, Fashion in Photographs 1900-1920, 1992, p. 116

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Events of 1918back to top

Current affairs

Despite the suspension of the Suffrage movement during the war, the Government finally agrees to grant women the right to vote as recognition of their vital role in the war effort. However, The Representation of the People Act only extended the franchise to female householders and university graduates over 30. Equal rights to men were not granted until 1928.

Art and science

War Poet, Wilfred Owen, is killed in action just a week before the end of the war. His poems, including Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth, tell of the horror of war in the trenches and the tragic loss of a generation of young men who enthusiastically signed up to fight in a war that became seen as futile rather than glorious.


British representative, Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, signs the Armistice calling a ceasefire on the 11th November 1918 and ending the war. Germany and Austria loose their empires and become republics. Around the same time a global flu pandemic brakes out - known in England as Spanish Flu - killing 50-100 million people within a year compared to 15 million fatalities from the four years of war.

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