Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
by Robert Howlett, and George Downes
albumen stereoscopic card, November 1857
7 1/8 in. x 6 3/4 in. (182 mm x 172 mm) overall
Artistsback to top
This portraitback to top
Brunel is shown seated in front of the gigantic launching chains of the Great Eastern on the banks of the river Thames. The ship's first attempted launch in November 1857 attracted thousands of paying spectators. Howlett and Cundall were commissioned by The Illustrated Times to take a series of photographs of its construction, which also included views of the gigantic hull surrounded by scaffolding and of the deck peopled with foremen and labourers. The resulting images were reproduced as engravings in a special edition published on 16 January 1858, and were also widely circulated as cartes-de-visite and stereoscopic cards. They serve as fine examples of environmental portraiture at a time when portraits taken outside the studio context were extremely challenging technically, and have become some of the most enduring and iconic images of the age. Watch a Digital interpretation of the original stereoscopic card here.
Linked publicationsback to top
- 100 Photographs, 2018, p. 22
Events of 1857back to top
Current affairsPalmerston passes the Matrimonial Causes Act in the face of parliamentary opposition. The act establishes divorce courts, although women, unlike men, are not allowed to sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
The Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition is held, a follow-up to the Great Exhibition of 1851, although highlighting Britain's private art collections rather than industry and technology. More than 1.3 million people visit the event.
Art and scienceElizabeth Gaskell publishes The Life of Charlotte Brontë, a year after the author's death. The controversial biography consolidates the myth of the Brontë sisters as isolated geniuses living in remote Yorkshire.
Illustrator George Scharf becomes the first Secretary of the National Portrait Gallery, overseeing the collection's growth and its several moves around London before a permanent home is established in 1896, the year after Scharf's death.
InternationalThe Indian Mutiny takes place following the insensitive response of the British army to complaints by Muslim and Hindu sepoys about using animal grease on their gun cartridges, which results in a horrific and violent uprising. The event precipitated a more involved role by the British government in India, taking over responsibility from the East India company.
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