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Victorian artists: photographs by David Wilkie Wynfield, 1860s

31 Portraits in set

This collection consists of thirty-one portraits of Victorian artists wearing historical costume, and belongs to a larger sequence of photographs taken by David Wilkie Wynfield in the 1860s.[1] Twenty of the images in Wynfield’s series were released for sale as The Studio: A Collection of Photographic Portraits of Living Artists, taken in the style of the Old Masters, by an Amateur, from March 1864. The publication included five separately issued sets of photographs and in each section the sitter was dressed in an appropriate costume in a given ‘Old Master’ style: Part 1 is in the manner of the ‘Flemish and Dutch Schools’, Part 4 after the ‘Venetian School’ and Part 5 again after ‘The Flemish Schools’.[2] Information on the styles of Parts 2 and 3 is not available, although the costume types worn by a number of the sitters suggest that the remaining styles were most likely to have been ‘Florentine’ and ‘Elizabethan’. The Studio sold for a guinea and was available from the photographic dealer Henry Hering of Regent Street, although no surviving sets have been traced.[3] A comparable and contemporaneous photographic project can be identified in Naudin’s Portfolio, which combined portraits of distinguished members of society with text outlining their particular achievements. This was issued in six monthly parts from November 1864 to April 1865. Although the images are not bound by a unified artistic approach, examination of surviving editions allows an understanding of the potential format and design of The Studio.[4]

The sitters in Wynfield’s sequence comprised members of the St John’s Wood Clique and their acquaintances (see below), including a selection of Royal Academicians and Pre-Raphaelites. In her study of the series, Juliet Hacking suggests that the range of artists portrayed – including architects and graphic artists as well as history and landscape painters – helps to explain the title of the series as representing a place where ‘artists could meet as equals and endeavour to recapture some of the bohemian camaraderie of their art-school days’. [5]

Conclusive evidence for exactly when Wynfield began or finished his photographic project has not been established. The earliest date associated with this sequence is 8 December 1863, when he registered a group of ten portraits at the Public Records Office.[6] By January 1864 the artist had also exhibited photographs at the Graphic Society and the South London Photographic Society.[7] Furthermore, in 1864 a number of his images came into public circulation and in February George Du Maurier described the artist’s continuing scheme in a letter to Tom Armstrong: ‘There is a man called Winfield Junior [sic] who has been taking large photographs of several of the fellows in 15 and 16 century costume, and they are splendid’.[8] Whilst the only portrait bearing a date – of painter Robert Pritchett – was executed in 1864, it appears that Wynfield’s series developed over a number of years in the 1860s.[9] The latest date firmly attributed to an image in the sequence is 1868, for the portrait of Edouard Manet. The French artist visited England only once and for just a few days in that year.[10]

Similarly, doubt remains as to where exactly these images were executed. It is natural to assume that they were taken in Wynfield’s studio, although there are no known documents recording sittings or planned meetings for this purpose. Given that the series may have evolved over time, it is perhaps likely that sittings occurred in multiple locations. Indeed, in her biography of George Frederic Watts, Veronica Franklin Gould implies that the artist sat for the sequence in his Kensington home. She also suggests that Watts even ‘invited friends to sit to Wynfield at Little Holland House’, and that these individuals included Frederic Leighton and Edward Burne-Jones. [11]

Wynfield was a founder member of the St John’s Wood Clique, an informal grouping of artists living and working in the area of St John’s Wood in north London, who were unified by a shared aesthetic outlook.[12] They specialized in paintings set in medieval and Renaissance times featuring historical, domestic or romantic incident. As one reviewer for The Times observed drily, these artists painted ‘history … on a scale suited to modern houses’.[13] Throughout the 1860s, Wynfield exhibited numerous pictures at the Royal Academy, each work historical in subject, and his photographic sequence continued and developed this latent theme. Hacking draws attention to the artist’s conceptual and stylistic debt to Van Dyck’s engraved Iconographie, which consists of graphic portraits of artists, patrons, soldiers and statesmen. The sepia tonality of Wynfield’s portraits corresponds to the preparatory drawings for this earlier series. Furthermore, the costume and heightened chiaroscuro of his photographic studies ‘implicitly identified the contemporary artists who sat for him as the equal of their distinguished forebears’.[14]

Although primarily a painter, Wynfield excelled in the practice of photography.[15] Using an 8 x 6 inch glass plate camera, his method when producing large-scale head studies was not to focus his camera exactly, so that a slightly blurred outline was produced.[16] Such techniques were certainly an inspiration to Julia Margaret Cameron – whom he began to advise in 1864 – and she identified Wynfield as a dominant influence on her work: ‘to my feeling about his beautiful photography I owed all my attempts & indeed consequently all my success’.[17]

Bevis Hillier describes the artist as a pioneer of the medium:

‘By pressing a button, he achieved what he and his friends strained after for hours in their laborious canvases – perfect verisimilitude. He invented, one might say, instant Pre-Raphaelitism. “He was”, said Henry Stacy Marks, “a very good and painter-like photographer”’.[18]

Indeed, Wynfield approached photography as if it were painting rather than drawing, deploying form rather than line, privileging chiaroscuro over definition, using deep, soft shadows and carefully directed and reflected lights. Subjects were placed against contrasting backgrounds close to the lens to create a shallow pictorial space, and the plate exposed to relatively low light levels, resulting in highly ‘atmospheric’ or ‘poetic’ images that ‘combine painterly sfumato with photographic immediacy’.[19] The Illustrated London News noted that Wynfield had managed to dispel the ‘deathlike stillness’ and ‘universal distinctness’ prevalent in contemporary portrait photography. In contrast, his deliberate ‘focal distortion’ produced an image closer to that conjured by the operation of the human eye. The result was a ‘greater softness, lifelike animation, apparent power of movement… than any other photographic copies of pictures or studies from life we have ever seen’.[20]

An early reviewer in the Reader notes other features of Wynfield’s photographic images:

‘The chief characteristics of these portraits are the substitution of a medieval for the modern costume, a small quantity of background skillfully disposed to assist the figure which occupies the greater portion of the square, and the importance given to the heads by the exclusion of all that does not help to give them due prominence. The hand is frequently introduced with good effect, as by Titian and Vandyke, of whose portraits we are constantly reminded by these photographs. It is also not one of the least interesting points about them that they bring out the great importance and value of costume. The figures of these painters [i.e. the sitters], comparatively ordinary in modern garb, appear as great Venetian or Spanish nobles under Mr. Wynfield’s treatment’.[21]

It remains unclear whether the type of apparel worn in the photographs was dictated by the artist or the sitter. The same items of costume appear in a number of the images, suggesting they were borrowed for the purpose. They may have been selected from Wynfield’s own costume box, but it is also possible that garments were loaned from the collection of historical costume owned by the Artists’ Society. This resource was used extensively by members of the St John’s Wood Clique for their paintings.[22] Alternatively, it is likely that some items were introduced by the sitters themselves. Leighton, for example, donned the same costume as the male figure in his painting Golden Hours (1864); and in an alternative image, he wears the elegant white robe worn by Cimabue in his large canvas Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna (1855). Furthermore, John Dawson Watson and Myles Birket Foster were photographed in costumes of remarkable similarity to the ones they wore at a weekend garden party at Foster’s home in Surrey. In unattributed photographs of this occasion (c.1860s), the sitters are depicted in the garden amongst family and friends, all of whom indulge in fancy dress.[23] This is just one example of the popularity of dressing up for photographs during this period. In the same vein, the members of the St John’s Wood Clique and their associates frequently staged fancy-dress parties and participated in amateur theatricals. Hacking judges that his willingness to engage in such behaviour positions Wynfield’s photographic portraits as ‘little more than extensions of these leisure activities’.[24]

Wynfield’s application of costume was also debated by twentieth-century writers. In 1926, Mary Smith argued that physiognomic likeness determined the type of clothes worn by the sitter and that the artist would arrange ‘some sort of head-dress or costume which he fancied suited the type of face’.[25] Hacking notes that more recent studies give the personality rather than the features as the rationale behind this process:

‘In fact, Wynfield’s use of costume sometimes relates to the physiognomy of the sitter and sometimes to their character.’ The employment of particular garments refers to ‘a wider project on the behalf of artists and writers to mediate the image of the contemporary artist through the appreciation of the hand, and thus soul, of the Old Master’.[26]

Nineteen of the Wynfield photographs at the NPG were purchased from the family of Sir Edmund Gosse in 1929 (NPG P70–88).[27] The remaining twelve (NPG P89–100) were the gift in 1937 of the theatrical historian Henry Saxe Wyndham, who owned a large collection of photographs, also including images of Italian art and portraits of children by Cameron.[28]

Images from Wynfield’s Collection of Photographic Portraits of Living Artists are also in the collections of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Royal Photographic Society, Bath. Added together, with duplicates excluded, there are seventy-six known bust portraits of fifty-four identified sitters (all but five of whom wear historical costume). Five sitters in the series remain unidentified. A number of other collections of Wynfield bust photographs exist, both private and public, but the sitters featured do not extend the series.[29]

The photographs, listed alphabetically, are as follows:

P70 Richard Ansdell (1815–1885)
P89 Richard Ansdell (1815–1885)
P71 Thomas Oldham Barlow (1824–1889)
P90 Thomas Oldham Barlow (1824–1889)
P72 Philip Hermogenes Calderon (1833–1898)
P73 Thomas Faed (1826–1900)
P99 Myles Birket Foster (1825–1899)
P100 William Gale (1823–1909)
P74 John Evan Hodgson (1831–1895)
P91 John Evan Hodgson (1831–1895)
P75 William Holman Hunt (1827–1910)
P76 Charles Samuel Keene (1823–1891)
P92 Charles Samuel Keene (1823–1891)
P77 Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton (1830–1896)
P93 Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton (1830–1896)
P78 Henry Stacy Marks (1829–1898)
P94 Henry Stacy Marks (1829–1898)
P79 Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Bt (1829–1896)
P80 John Phillip (1817–1867)
P83 Henry Wyndham Phillips (1820–1868)
P82 Frederick Richard Pickersgill (1820–1900)
P83 Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838–1904)
P95 Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838–1904)
P84 Frederick Walker (1840–1875)
P85 John Dawson Watson (1832–1892)
P86 George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)
P96 George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)
P87 David Wilkie Wynfield (1837–1887)
P97 David Wilkie Wynfield (1837–1887)
P88 William Frederick Yeames (1835–1918)
P98 William Frederick Yeames (1835–1918)

Sitters in Wynfield’s series, outside the collection:

P225 Edward Armitage (1817–1896)

Sitters in Wynfield’s series, outside the NPG:

William Swinden Barber (active 1859–1898); RA, 03/6186
George Price Boyce (1826–1897); RA, 03/7055
Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898); RA, 03/7015
Edward Burne Jones, alternate pose; RA, 03/7060
Frederick Pepys Cockerell (1833–1878); RA, 03/6947
Eyre Crowe (1824–1910); RA, 03/6946
George Du Maurier (1834–1896); RA, 03/7336
Alfred. W. Elmore (1815–1881); colls RA, 03/6582; V&A, 2184-1933
James Anthony Froude (1818–1894); RA, 04/4
Carl Haag (1820–1915); RA, 03/7054
James Hayller (1829–1920); colls RA, 03/5658; RPS, 2812p
Edward Robert King-Harman (1838–1888); RA, 04/8
Thomas Heatherley (1824–1914); RA, 03/7057
Robert Herdman (1829–1888); RA, 03/7235
Joseph Middleton Jopling (1831–1884); RA, 03/6579
Alphonse Legros (1837–1911); RA, 03/6944
George Dunlop Leslie (1835–1921); RA, 03/6971
Arthur Lewis (1824–1901); RA, 03/6190
Arthur Lewis, alternate pose; RA, 03/4510
Arthur Lewis, alternate pose; RA, 03/4431
Sir Coutts Lindsay, 2nd Bt (1824–1913); RA, 03/6972
Eduard Manet (1832–1883); RA, 03/7379
George Heming Mason (1818–1872) [unconfirmed identification]; RA, 03/7238
Frederick Mew (1832–1898); RA, 03/6975
Charles Perugini (1839–1918); RA, 03/7056
Henry Thoby Prinsep (1792–1878); RA, 03/6583
Robert Taylor Pritchett (1828–1907); colls RA, 03/7237; RPS, 1991p
Anthony Salvin (1799–1881); RA, 04/1
Anthony Salvin Jr.; RA, 03/7234
Frederic James Shields (1833–1911) [provisional identification]; RA, 04/3
Simeon Solomon (1841–1905); RA, 03/7315
George Adolphus Storey (1834–1919); RA, 03/6967
William Wetmore Story (1819–1896); RA, 03/4519
George Edmund Street / Unknown sitter; RA, 03/6580
Field Talfourd (1815–1874); RA, 03/5655
Field Talfourd, variant pose; RA, 03/6718
Charles Thorneley (active 1858–1898); RA, 03/6192
Henry Tanworth Wells (1828–1903); RA, 04/13
Unidentified male sitter; RA, 04/2
Unidentified male sitter; RA, 03/6191
Unidentified male sitter; RA, 03/6941
Unidentified male sitter; ref. Enghien sale rooms, 29 Nov. 2009 (14)

Elizabeth Heath

Footnotesback to top

1) These images were mistakenly attributed to Julia Margaret Cameron before they entered the collection at the NPG. In 1978, they were transferred from the NPG’s Reference to its Primary Collection: NPG RP P70–88 and P89–100. See also NPG Report of the Trustees 1978–9, pp.16, 24, NPG Archive.
2) This information came to light in 1995, after the discovery of labels preserved on the mounts of several of Wynfield’s photographs in the collection of Birmingham MAG; NPG NoP (Wynfield).
3) As well as dealing in and publishing photographs, Hering was engaged in photographing paintings. A review of Wynfield’s images in the Reader, dated 30 Jan. 1864, suggests that they were on display at his establishment before being released for general sale.
4) Naudin’s Portfolio, edited by Hamilton Hulme, 6 parts, Nov. 1864–Apr. 1865; BL, 1758.a.19. This project could potentially have been issued indefinitely. The fact that it ran for only six months suggests that it was not a commercial success.
5) Hacking 2000, p.44.
6) National Archives, Kew: ‘Copy 1’ collection (copy 1/5). The labels from Birmingham (see note 2 above) state that the prints had been copyrighted. However, only three sitters from the ten portraits registered for copyright in 1883 appeared in the instalments of The Studio: Thomas Faed, P.H. Calderon and John Phillip (all in Part 1). A print of F.J. Shields from this sequence is in the RA, 04/3. At the bottom edge is a watermark which indicates a date of 1862 or 1863, but only a very small portion of the mark remains, the rest having been trimmed off the print. Considering that Wynfield registered his prints in 1863, the watermark is likely to record the same date also.
7) Hacking 1998, p.208.
8) Letter from George Du Maurier to Tom Armstrong, Feb. 1864; Du Maurier 1951, p.228.
9) Hacking 1998, p.207.
10) Hacking 1998., p.211. This appears to be the latest known date of production for an original photograph in the series. However, there is a platinum print of J.E. Hodgson by Wynfield in the RA, 03/5748. Materials for platinum prints were not marketed until c.1879. If Wynfield did make all prints from the sequence himself, his involvement with the project extended well beyond the 1860s.
11) Gould 2004, p.61.
12) The St John’s Wood Clique was operational from 1863, before disbanding in 1890. In 1867 Wynfield set up home at 14 Grove End Road, St John’s Wood.
13) ‘Exhibition of the Royal Academy (Second Article)’, The Times, 22 May 1866, p.12.
14) Hacking 2004.
15) Wynfield changed the spelling of his name from Winfield perhaps to avoid confusion with the painter James Digman Wingfield. See Hacking 1998, p.232.
16) Garner 1973, p.158.
17) Julia Margaret Cameron to William Michael Rossetti, 23 Jan. 1866, Gernsheim Coll., University of Texas, Austin.
18) Hillier 1964, p.491.
19) Marks 1894, p.165.
20) ILN, ‘Fine Arts’, 19 Mar. 1864, p.275.
21) ‘Mr Wynfield’s Photographs’, Reader, 30 Jan. 1864, p.145.
22) Hacking 1998, p.227.
23) For example, see Hacking 2000, p.20, fig.6.
24) Hacking 2000., p.11.
25) Smith 1926, p.152.
26) Hacking 1998, pp.224–5.
27) Letter from Sylvia Gosse to Henry Hake, 13 May 1929: ‘Thank you very much for sending us the cheque for 10 gns. for the photographs and engravings. And please let me thank you on my mother’s behalf, though she is now too ill to be told about it’: NPG RP P70–88.
28) Letter from Henry Hake to Henry Saxe Wyndham, 5 June 1937 and memorandum, 24 June 1937, NPG RP P89–100. With the Wynfield photographs, Saxe Wyndham also donated a portrait of G.F. Watts by Cameron (NPG P125).
29) Hacking 1998, p.210.

Referencesback to top

Du Maurier 1951
Du Maurier, D., ed., The Young George Du Maurier: A Selection of his Letters 1860–67, London, 1951.

Garner 1973
Garner, M.A.K., ‘David Wynfield, Painter and Photographer’, Apollo, February 1973, pp.156–9.

Gould 2004
Gould, V.F., G.F. Watts: The Last Great Victorian, London, 2004.

Hacking 1998
Hacking, J.L., ‘Photography Personified: Art and Identity in British Photography 1857–1869’, unpublished doctoral thesis, Courtauld Institute, University of London, 1998.

Hacking 2000
Hacking, J., Princes of Victorian Bohemia: Photographs by David Wilkie Wynfield, exh. cat., NPG, London, 2000.

Hacking 2004
Hacking, J., ‘Wynfield, David Wilkie (1837–1887)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004.

Hillier 1964
Hillier, B., ‘The St John’s Wood Clique’, Apollo, vol.79, June 1964, pp.490–95.

Marks 1894
Marks, H.S., Pen & Pencil Sketches, 2 vols, London, 1894.

Smith 1926
Smith, M.H. Stephen, Art and Anecdote: Recollections of William Frederick Yeames R.A, His Life and His Friends, London, 1926.

List Thumbnail

John Phillip, by David Wilkie Wynfield - NPG P80

John Phillip

by David Wilkie Wynfield
albumen print, 1860s