Monday, February 8, 2010

Playing with Pictures--The Art of Victorian Photocollage

If you happen to be in New York between now and early May, you might find this exhibit a charming stop. If not, go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art's web site and see some very interesting examples of the work in the exhibit. There is also a catalog if you find yourself carried away with how aristocratic Victorian women were combining photographs and watercolors, long before 20th-century artists took up the medium.

There is a great deal of imagination displayed in images like a giant butterfly whose wings display small albumen silver prints of gentlemen. The watercolor work is vivid. The artist is Marie-Blanche-Hennelle Fournier (French 1831-1906). You might think of your own scrapbooking in a way. But for us photography is as ordinary as white bread. Not so for these women. This was a fascination with something new and obviously challenging.

My personal favorite is "Diamond Shape with Nine Studio Portraits of the Palmerston Family and a Painted Cherry Blossom Surround." It is the work of Frances Elizabeth, Viscountess Jocelyn (English 1820-1880). The portraits are Victorian--the costumes enchanting. However, the composition and the artful way the photographs combine with the artwork is a such a happy combination. Apparently, this was done for the Jocelyn family album.

As many of you know, Queen Victoria's own watercolors of her life, and especially of her children, are delightful and illustrate the fact that all upper class and royal women were instructed in the arts. The exhibition includes another royal, Alexandra, Princess of Wales (English b. Denmark, 1844-1925). The photographs are a tumble of life as lived in and around palaces. (Who can resist Victorian children?) The border is composed of painted ribbons. It just might give you an idea how to frame your own collage of photos of your family. Save those snippets of holiday ribbons and see where it takes you.

I never see things like this exhibit without trying to find a way to make my life and my work a little more interesting.

Enjoy the exhibit here, online at the Met, or in person if you happen to find yourself on Fifth Avenue. And how are you archiving your family's record? I know that cardboard boxes are passe and digital files are the way of the world. What would our Victorian ladies have done with this challenge?


  1. Oh, I would love to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. That would be so fascinating to me. Enjoyed the photocollages. Sincerely, Susan from

  2. Wonderful post! Thank you~ Since I live on the opposite coast from this exhibition, I have to settle for going to the website you provided. After doing a brief search on this pastime, I find it interesting that there was never a reference to it in any of the required classes I took while working on my degree (though I didn't attend a dedicated University such as Brooks, etc.) I couldn't help but chuckle over the image by Kate Edith Gough of the lady's heads on ducks! All are quite imaginative, but this one was my favorite!

    I also ended up in a wild goose chase to discover any connection between Constance Sackville-West and Vita Sackville-West (since another of my passions is gardening... and her gardens at Sissinghurst are some of my favorites)

    Well, I've run out to time before work, but found numerous links that I'll follow later ... But link is an interesting post: I think I was born in the wrong era! (:

    Thanks again Nancy! Vicki

  3. PS: I love how Frances Elizabeth, Viscountess Jocelyn allowed the costumes to extend out of the frames.

  4. In this day and age we live in now, it is hard to believe how resourceful these women had to be. And how talented they were with the few tools they had available to them. Thank you for sharing these unique photocollages with us and the links as well.

  5. My goodness, what wonderful images! These certainly put our modern-day scrapbooking to shame! That said, it is sometimes all I can do to get photos downloaded onto my computer, much less to scrapbook them in any meaningful way. I've finally admitted I just need to get some pretty, ready-made albums and store my photos that way ... IF they are to have any life outside the camera and computer!

  6. Dear Nancy,

    Do you still have the peacock that your grandmother embroidered?

    I've gotten out some old issues (they are becoming quite tattered now from so much enjoyment) of Victoria and have just finished rereading Jenny Walton's Chimes...A Reason for being proud as a Peacock...Winter 1987/88
    What a lovely story and a real treasure!


  7. I am embarrassed to say my family pictures are tossed into a large truck. No organization at all. I love the idea with the ribbons for a background and the butterfly is beautiful.

  8. Dear Barbie,

    Oh my dear, of course I have my grandmother's peacock. Some years ago my friend Janet helped me frame it--and it is the focal point of my apartment in Westchester. I love every stitch. And I am as proud as a peacock of her in every way--mostly her heart and soul. She was the angel of my life. Having this beautiful memento of her is so marvelous. But having her with me every day is the true gift. Things are our touchstones; our memories are our true legacy. NL