The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

The Brothers Sarony

Past display archive
20 October 2009 - 13 June 2010

Room 28 case display


This display celebrates the acquisition of two new portraits by nineteenth-century studio photographers Oliver and Napoleon Sarony: a self-portrait by Oliver Sarony and a photograph of the writer Oscar Wilde. Born in Quebec one year apart, the brothers are now relatively little known outside of specialised circles but were among the most profitable and well-patronised photographers of their day specialising in carte-de-visite and cabinet card portraits. Operating businesses on both sides of the Atlantic, Oliver was based in the fashionable seaside resort town of Scarborough and Napoleon in Birmingham and then New York. Both made their names through a mix of entrepreneurial and marketing flair, flamboyant personality and photographic skills.

In 1877 the Photographic News announced that Oliver’s premises was ‘probably the largest establishment devoted to photography in the world’. He brought so much business to the town that the square in which his studio stood was renamed Sarony Square. Napoleon became so successful that in 1871 he expanded his Broadway premises to an entire building for which he paid $8000 rental a year. At his death The New York Times estimated he had made over 40 000 negatives of show business personalities.

Featured sitters include Adah Menken, Sarah Bernhardt, Walt Whitman, Matthew Arnold and Princess Louise, The Duchess of Argyll.