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Amelia Edwards

Amelia Edwards, by Herbert Watkins, late 1850s -NPG P301(23) - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Amelia Edwards

by Herbert Watkins
Albumen print, late 1850s
7 1/2 in. x 6 in. (190 mm x 152 mm)
NPG P301(23)

Inscriptionback to top

On mount inscr. in pencil lower right: ‘Miss Amelia B. Edwards’.

This portraitback to top

This photograph, of which this print is the sole copy to have been located, dates from around 1858–9 when Edwards was in her late twenties and had first come to public attention as a popular novelist, author of My Brother’s Wife (1855) and The Ladder of Life (1857). The year 1858 was a particularly productive one, during which she published the novel Hand and Glove, a history of France for school students and the translation of Fanny Loviot’s account of her captivity among Chinese pirates. In addition she wrote a weekly newspaper column. With her hair neatly coiled over her ears and wearing a high-necked blouse with a loosely knotted cravat in what might be termed ‘governess-mode’, she is shown in the act of writing with a quill pen, the very model of a successful authoress.

(George) Herbert Watkins opened his Regent Street studio in 1856 and produced a series of photographs of distinguished contemporaries, which he published with printed biographies under the title ‘National Gallery of Photographic Portraits’. In advertising his works, he stated that all were ‘taken specially from Life’, were unretouched and were ‘as remarkable for their agreeable fidelity to nature as for their brilliancy of production and their economy of cost’.[1] The print of Edwards is notably over-exposed and some retouchings are visible, delineating the buttons on her blouse and some simulated script on the folded sheets of paper. No contemporary reproductions of the image have yet been traced.

A total of 193 portraits by Herbert Watkins are in the National Portrait Gallery collection, of which some 120 images are contained in an album compiled by the photographer towards the end of the 1850s (see NPG Portrait Set ‘The Watkins Album: photographs by Herbert Watkins, late 1850s’). Edwards’s inclusion in this sequence is an index of her contemporary fame.[2] Her portrait is no.23 in the album, which also contains images of the popular poet Eliza Cook (NPG P301(102a)) and the already world-famous Charles Dickens (NPG P301(19) and NPG P301(20)), for whose periodicals Edwards wrote several Christmas ghost stories.

Coincidentally, a few years earlier Edwards had composed texts for a photographic exhibition of portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots published by Caldesi & Co., which was followed in 1864 by publication of the ‘Historical Portrait Gallery’ of paintings in British collections, photographed by Caldesi and published by Colnaghi & Co., to which she also contributed biographical texts.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) From the advertisement in Notes & Queries, 30 Jan. 1858, offering the first eight portraits (Lords Palmerston, Lyndhurst, Stanhope, Brougham and Lansdowne, the Bishop of Oxford, Sir G.C. Lewis, Sir Colin Campbell, George Grote and Douglas Jerrold). The same page carried a comparable advert for the photographic series of ‘Living Celebrities’ published by Maull & Polyblank.
2) Other women included in the album are Charlotte Cushman (135), Euphemia Millais (37) and Adelaide Ristori, who is shown in costume in a variety of theatrical roles.

Physical descriptionback to top

Half-length, seated, to front, holding quill pen in right hand as if about to write.

Provenanceback to top

Watkins Album, purchased 1985.

View all known portraits for Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards



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