Early Photography: Chasing images

March 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm (history, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

How do you identify an image of a person – one painted or photographed long, long ago?

By what’s written on the back! if you’re lucky.

This miniature of Maria Smith, aka Lady Culme Seymour, was ID’ed as her; I take it to have been her mainly because the provenance claims a family descent.

It sold, at auction, with her mother-in-law’s miniature — Jane, Lady Seymour.

My task lately — and a daunting one it has been — is to ID a couple of photographs. Are they Maria? are they a sister? or (worse thought) have they been mis-identified????

Time WILL tell.

But that brings into the mix, several early photographers. Yes, these were certainly the types of people, with money enough, who would have been interested in having their portraits done. Interested, too, in pursuing photography for themselves, in the end. A photo album connected to the Gosling family resides at a Surrey archive; among portraits are also what can only be described as travel photographs! Imagine what you had to tote around to photograph your adventures away from home back in the 1870s!

One portrait of Maria is by the famed photographer Camille Silvy (1834-1910). The National Portrait Gallery’s website about him calls Silvy “a pioneer of early photography and one of the greatest French photographers of the nineteenth century. Maria seems to have been photographed in 1860. (She was born in 1814. You do the math.) Silvy moved to London in 1859. Her nephew, Mary and Charles Smith’s son, Charles Cunliffe Smith — along with his wife Agnes, Lady Smith — are represented in Silvy’s books, but far later in number. How fascinating to go through these book NPG has and see all the people photographed by Silvy!

But there are other family photos, but other photographers. One that has surfaced is a family group, plus some individual photographs, by William Claridge (1797-1876). He began photographing in the Berkhamsted area in the 1850s.

A third photographer, one with ties — at the very least — with the Comptons and Dickens families, is William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an online article entitled “William Henry Fox Talbot and the Invention of Phography“. I’ve come across mention of Dickens family pictures, and online have found Fox Talbot’s letters, which have him giving several wonderful descriptions of Lord and Lady Compton, while they lived in Italy.

Such valuable resources — in images and words.

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Where there’s a WILL

November 21, 2010 at 12:52 pm (a day in the life, fashion) (, , , , , , , , , )

Yesterday, rather bored and wanting something to transcribe rather than write (I’m slowing working on my book about the Goslings & Smiths; a book review is due in a month, which is more or less done), I purchased and downloaded two wills – for Charles Joshua Smith and his wife Mary (Gosling) Smith.

One interesting feature of Charles’: he named Mary the guardian of his children — as long only as she remained his widow! If she remarried, then guardianship of the three (Charles Cunliffe Smith, Mary Charlotte Smith, Augusta Elizabeth Smith) was shared with Charles’ mother (Mrs Augusta Smith) and his brother (Spencer Smith).

Mary never did remarry; although she only outlived Charles by 11 years.

The “fun” thing about Mary’s will are the ‘trinkets’ (the name she applied) gifted by her to various relatives. Today I focus on that given by her to Charlotte (Smith) Currie — or I should say intended by Mary to go to Charlotte; Mary outlived young Charlotte by two years. The Codicil in which these items were given is dated 29 September 1834 (Mary died in July 1842).

So what had she intended Charlotte Currie to have as a memento? “A bracelet with Swiss Landscapes in enamel”. That I’d LOVE to see!!

So I looked up some images of 19th century, Georgian Swiss enamel jewelry. The only “landscapes” I found were those made into pins, and dating much later than 1830s. But isn’t this specimen, from c1850, gorgeous:

This bracelet could be closer to what Mary may have owned — possibly something she bought while abroad in 1829:

This, of course, is floral rather than landscapes, but this is described as being c1840, and so is more in keeping with what Mary may have purchased.

Mary’s 1829 diary was the first seen when comparing the handwriting of  “Lady Smith of Stapleford Tawney” (as the microfilm termed her) with that of Mary Gosling; they were a match! And the first words read in that 1829 diary?

Hausmadchen zeigen sie mir eines Bettzimmer“; above which she inserted “wollen sie mir zeigen“, which is a bit more “Would you mind showing me a bedroom, Housemaid”. Obviously, a phrase written down to prepare for this trip abroad.

I must admit, that reading of these gifts (mainly jewelry, but also some token gifts of money) made Mary seem that much more “solid” for some few moments; these items trinkets, as she said, of her existence — and her esteem for those left behind.

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Cause for Celebration

July 4, 2010 at 9:07 pm (research) (, , , , , )

Craig from Australia alerted me to the sale of this book on eBay — one (from the signature) once in the library of Charles Cunliffe Smith, the son of Mary and Charles Smith of Suttons!

Craig has given me a couple reasons to smile this week, including the following story (reprinted with his kind permission):

“I will explain what happened after you passed on that other email in February. 
 
My grandfather used to tell us stories about how his cousin had come to Melbourne and stayed with he and his family in the 1930s. He would tell us she was a dancer with the Russian ballet. We used to roll our eyes a bit and think it was like one of grandpa’s stories that was being made up as it went along. 
 
I nearly fell off my chair when the woman who sent the email asked if any of my family had met her aunt when she was in Australia dancing with the Russian ballet. So it all made sense.
 
When my grandfather’s great grandfather died in the 1880s all the documents etc ended up being passed down to he and his brothers, and all the photos passed to this woman’s grandmother. Before my grandfather died he gave me all the papers he had relating to our family. It used to be difficult trying to find a lot of information before the internet, but it is a lot easier these days. So I have just been plodding along with this on my own for the past 12 years.
 
The woman who sent the email (and is actually my cousin) and I copied and exchanged everything we both had. So now I have scans of the early family photos from the 1850s through to the 1890s, and she now has copies of all the documents from the 1500s through to 1900.”
What a heartwarming story — for a couple reasons. One, of course, is the reuniting of a “family archive”; how I’d love to be able to do that with the Smiths and Goslings! And Two has got to be a cheer for the power of the internet: I’ve “met” so many terrific people, with such varied interests, who have given advice, help, and friendship. Indeed some great reasons for celebrations, on this 4th of July, 2010

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