The Southwell Brothers: Photographers Royal

Past display archive
9 May - 6 December 2011

Room 26 case display


The Southwell Brothers comprised the partnership between William (1823–70), Frederick (1833–83) and Edwin (1840–82) Southwell. They established their joint venture in 1862 at the height of the carte-de-visite’s popularity. The sons of a piano maker, the eldest two brothers followed their father’s trade before William opened a photographic studio in London at 16 Baker Street in about 1857. Early royal patronage ensured a further distinguished clientele that was made up of the aristocracy, politicians, clergy and members of the theatrical profession. Success continued with two further studios opening at 22 Baker Street in 1862 and 64a New Bond Street in 1867. Their reported daily earnings averaged between £70 and £100.

After William’s sudden death in 1870 and the ensuing financial difficulties faced by the two surviving brothers, the studio passed through various hands. Sold in 1878 to the photographers Boning & Small, press advertisements were placed announcing their intention to destroy the Southwell’s negatives. As such, it appears the brothers’ complete archive is lost, though a record of their work demonstrating their artistic flair persists through their surviving cartes-de-visite. This display showcases some of these, including a recently acquired portrait of Queen Victoria.

© National Portrait Gallery, London