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The Permanence of Disruption

 

By all accounts, Scotsman David Octavius Hill, (1802-1870) Secretary of the Royal Scottish Academy of Fine Arts in Edinburgh, was an accomplished landscape painter. Thankfully, for the nascent medium of photography beginning around 1843, he is not remembered for that. Blame the Disruption, if you will.

 

1-of-hill-and-adamson-fromDetail: 1868: Artist David Octavius Hill with sketchpad at top; Photographer Robert Adamson behind wooden box camera at bottom. : Thomas Annan: vintage carbon copy photograph after D.O. Hill painting: "The Disruption of the Church of Scotland"completed 1866: original: (13.5 x 31.4 cm | 34.4 x 41.4 cm ) : from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Disruption with a capitol D? He didn’t know it at the time, but when the freethinking Hill, a devout churchman seen above in detail in his own painting, sketchpad in hand, attended what became known as the Disruption: or, the historical occasion of Scottish religious free will known as the First General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland signing the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission at Edinburgh’s Tanfield Hall, the artistic potential of photography would soon stake its’ own claim among the arts.

 

The Scots are Coming


Admittedly, the focus of this website doesn’t claim any great insights into the evolution of early photography, with the exception that certain photographers, those being the team of Hill and fellow Scotsman Robert Adamson, (1821-1848) popularly known as “Hill & Adamson”, are profoundly important to our understanding of artistic developments in relation to photography that came later in the 19th Century. Similar to the concept of how precedent by itself can build a case in the courtroom or in the more democratic court of public opinion, the reach of Hill & Adamson through their artistic achievement, especially in portraiture, impacted greatly the later working methods of many photographers and in particular, the eventual achievement of two fellow Scots who came into their orbit:  Thomas Annan and his son James Craig Annan beginning around 1865 and in the early 1890’s.

 

As for that “Disruption” in relation to Hill’s completion 23 years later of an over-sized painting commemorating the event, the decision to separate from the accepted order gave former Church of Scotland congregations the freedom from central Church control to choose their own ministers, among other religious freedoms. For this alone,  photography’s potential was nicely summed up in the London Art-Union journal in late 1869:

 

To photography Mr. Hill, soon after its discovery, about the year 1843, gave much attention, and we shall not be wrong in assigning him the credit of giving to the process its first artistic impetus; and, in conjunction with his friend, Mr. R. Adamson, of having produced many specimens of the Talbotype as yet unsurpassed for high artistic qualities.  (1.)

 

2-salt-print-calotype-1840Example of vintage mounted salt print from calotype negative:(trimmed) : ca. 1845-1855: unknown photographer and location: detail from facade of English or Continental church building: ca. 1845-55: 12.8 x 8.8 | 24.9 x 19.9 cm: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

Thank the Calotype


Because the patent restricting Englishman William Henry Fox-Talbot’s 1841 invention of the Calotype process did not apply in Scotland, Hill & Adamson were able to exploit it to full potential. I’ve uploaded an example above, which in viewable form is technically known as a salted paper print from a calotype negative, for comparison. A survivor showing a bit of Gothic architectural detail, it was most likely done between 1845-1855 and found tucked between the pages of this archive’s copy of the aforementioned monthly Art-Union from 1846: the first magazine in history to publish (6000 copies) an example of a TalbotypeSun Pictures” process calotype.

For a relatively clear understanding of what this early, yet cumbersome two-step process was, former George Eastman House Senior Curator of Photography William R. Stapp wrote in the pages of Image magazine from 1993 on the occasion of a seminal show of original Hill & Adamson calotypes held by the institution:

 

Calotypes are made on paper. The process requires the photographer to sensitize a sheet of good quality writing paper by brushing it with successive solutions of silver nitrate, potassium iodide, gallic acid, and silver nitrate. After being dried in the dark, the sensitized paper is loaded in the camera; after an exposure of several minutes, the negative is developed by brushing the paper with a solution of gallic acid and silver nitrate, fixed in a bath of sodium thiosulfate (“hypo”) to remove unexposed silver salts, and washed. When dried, this typically dense and contrasty negative is used to make a positive print on so called “salted paper,” which the photographer also has to prepare. This time a sheet of the same good quality writing paper is soaked first in a solution of sodium chloride (ordinary table salt, hence the term “salted paper”), then in a solution of silver nitrate, to produce the halide silver chloride. After it has been dried in the dark, the now light-sensitive salted paper is exposed to the negative in strong sunlight until the image is printed-out on it in deep orange hues. The resulting positive print is fixed in hypo, toned with gold chloride to a rich reddish-brown color, and washed to remove the residual chemistry. In all modern photographic materials, a transparent gelatin emulsion coated on the film or paper support contains the silver particles that form the image. Neither the calotype negative nor the calotype positive has an emulsion of any kind. The image resides literally within the fibers of the paper because the paper itself has been permeated with the photosensitive chemicals. A calotype print consequently incorporates the “tooth” (texture) of both the negative paper and the positive paper in its image. The print has a texture that is both visual and physical, which softens the image and mutes the rendition of detail.  (2.)

 

3-dr-chalmersPasted carbon print: ca. 1916: The Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers: (1780-1847) minister, social reformer, leader & first Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland Assembly, Principal of New College, Edinburgh.:15.2 x 11.1 cm: Jesse Bertram: after original ca. 1843 calotype by Hill & Adamson.: shown on opened, inside board cover to volume: "A Selection from the Correspondence of the late Thomas Chalmers, D.D. LL.D." : Edinburgh: Thomas Constable and Co. : 1853: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

Activism, and a bit of Fate


As fate would have it, one of those involved with the Scottish Free Church movement was Fox-Talbot correspondent Sir David Brewster. A friend of “Disruption” general assembly moderator, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers, (1780-1847) who was a minister, social reformer and evangelical orator of high renown chiefly responsible for the secession from the established Church, Brewster early on had learned the Calotype process from his friend Talbot. Teaming with Saint Andrews University chemistry professor John Adamson, they in turn taught it to Adamson’s younger brother Robert Adamson in 1842 after he had moved to Edinburgh.

 

And the rest they say is history. With Brewster also present at the assembly signing with Hill, he in turn suggested the new process to the painter as a way to solve the dilemma of accurately portraying the hundreds of clergy and others present at the “Disruption” for posterity.

 

4-brewster-and-chalmersDetail: 1868: far right: Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers: Free Church of Scotland moderator along with major figures left to right: Scottish photography pioneer Sir David Brewster, (wearing spectacles looking down at book) Rev. Robert Lorimer, Rev. John Forbes, Dr. David Welsh: undivided Church of Scotland moderator holding a copy of May 18, 1843 church protest that was never answered, Dr. John Fleming, Chalmers. : Thomas Annan: vintage carbon copy photograph after D.O. Hill painting: "The Disruption of the Church of Scotland"completed 1866: original: (13.5 x 31.4 | 34.4 x 41.4 cm ) : from PhotoSeed Archive

 

Twenty-three years later, most likely with the help of Hill’s second wife Amelia Paton, (1820-1904) a sculptress, the Disruption painting, measuring in finished at over 11 feet by 5 feet, was ready for public display. And this is where it gets interesting for the career of Thomas Annan (1829–1887) and much later, his son James Craig Annan. (1864-1946) The decision to copy the painting for a mass audience was never in doubt for Hill, a man well-connected with the Scottish publishing trade who was born into it; his father being a bookseller and publisher. Hill had even learned the art of lithography from an early age, using it in the reproduction of his own work as a landscape painter for 20 years.

 

5-william-etty-raCarbon print: ca. 1879 - 1881 : William Etty, R.A. (English painter: 1787-1849) : Thomas Annan or James Craig Annan: after original 1844 calotype paper negative by Hill & Adamson: 18.5 x 14.0 cm: former collection: Exeter Camera Club: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

In 1865, shortly before his masterwork was finished, Hill made the acquaintance of Annan by reputation through his brother Alexander’s art gallery in Edinburgh.  Annan’s copy paintings had been displayed there, for he had already made a name for himself in this line of work as early as 1862, producing fine copies of artwork for the Glasgow Art Union. These Art Unions “were lotteries connected with the major art exhibitions; the successful subscribers won paintings, and every subscriber received an engraving.” (3)

 

A commission resulted between Hill and Annan to copy Hill’s Disruption masterwork, a canvas that unfortunately- as opposed to the hundreds of Hill & Adamson calotypes used for reference works in its’ creation and now considered masterpieces of the photographic art-did not equate it to a masterpiece itself.  Annan employed for this task an improved permanent carbon photographic process, using Joseph Wilson Swan’s 1864 patent carbon tissue to reproduce copies of the “Disruption” after purchasing the Scottish rights from him in 1866. (4.)

 

6a-thomas-annan-advertisemeLeft: 1868: advertisement: New Zealand bookseller A.R. Livingston's solicitation for Thomas Annan carbon photo of "Disruption Picture" completed 1866 by D.O. Hill: published in Otago Daily Times. Right: 1868: Detail: black arrow pointing to Thomas Annan standing in doorway painted as part of "Disruption" painting (another account states Annan is at left of this figure wearing hat) : Thomas Annan: vintage carbon copy photograph after D.O. Hill painting: "The Disruption of the Church of Scotland"completed 1866: original: (13.5 x 31.4 | 34.4 x 41.4 cm ) : from PhotoSeed Archive

 

In addition to several detail photos of the painting included with this post, a mounted carbon copy photograph by Annan published in 1868 for the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission can be seen in our archive here. For those adventurous enough to decipher names and titles of some of those making up the sea of faces in the painting, partly seen below,  a fascinating, yet tricky key to some of the major figures can be found here. This was published as part of the 1943 centenary volume ‪The Disruption Picture‬: ‪A Memorial of the First General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland‬ by Donald MacKinnon.  (5.)

 

7-disruption-of-the-churchDetail: 1868: At center of table, the Rev. Dr. Patrick MacFarlan (1781-1849) of Greenock is first to sign the "Deed of Demission", "resigning the highest living in the Church of Scotland at the time", said to be £ 1000.00 annually, which commemorated the establishment of the Free Church of Scotland: Thomas Annan: vintage carbon copy photograph after D.O. Hill painting: "The Disruption of the Church of Scotland"completed 1866: original: (13.5 x 31.4 cm | 34.4 x 41.4 cm ) : from PhotoSeed Archive

 

Thomas Annan, Documentarian


With Hill’s work complete, Thomas Annan’s professional career was starting to hit full stride, especially after his success with the Disruption commission. In 1868, the same year a version of this carbon photo was published, (6.) Annan undertook a new commission from the City of Glasgow Improvements Trust that when first published as a series of around 35 albumen prints in 1872, became known as The Old Closes & Streets of Glasgow. As previously outlined in my essay written in 2006 for the Luminous Lint website, Annan’s photographs taken between 1868-1871 are among the earliest done specifically for a record of slum housing conditions prior to urban renewal and as such are an important milestone in the history of documentary photography. (7)

 

11-close-no-193-high-stre1868: vintage hand-pulled photogravure: "Close No. 193 High Street": Thomas Annan: from: "The Old Closes & Streets of Glasgow" - photographs taken for the City of Glasgow Improvements Trust : 22.2 x 18.1 | 38.0 x 28.5 cm: 1900: gravure from original collodion glass plate by James Craig Annan: Glasgow: plate #9 from James MacLehose & Sons limited edition of 100: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

Perhaps knowing her husband’s photographic legacy might be carried on, Amelia Paton bequeathed to Annan “a large collection of calotypes and the portrait lens used by Hill and Adamson” after Hill’s death in 1870. (8.) Speculation he used this very lens for portraits taken soon after for his illustrated volume the Memorials of the Old College of Glasgow, (1871) with examples seen in this post, are an intriguing insight raised by Sara Stevenson in her biography of Annan. (9.) Proportionally, individual portraits taken by Hill & Adamson in the 1840’s compared with those by Annan of the professors from the Glasgow volume and are very similar. However, Annan had the advantage of using the collodion process as opposed to calotype, with the increase of sensitivity of these plates lending a sharpness to his work not possible as movement was often the inevitable result of the slower 2-3 minute exposures required for the older process.

 

A comparison showing the softness, beauty and masterful composition of a later generation carbon print portrait of English painter William Etty (1787-1849) done ca. 1843 by Hill and Adamson can be seen with this post along with portraits by Annan taken around 1870. These include the striking portrait of professor and theologian John Caird (1820-1898) that reveal compositional similarities between the photographers nearly 30 years apart. With the archival benefit of Annan printing his efforts in permanent carbon, it’s also amusing to see exposure times, although shorter than calotype, did not prevent him in at least one case from seizing the moment in order to permanently memorialize his subject and another unwitting one: a rather large housefly clinging to academic robes worn by University of Glasgow English Language and Literature Professor John Nichol.

 

9-thomas-annan-glasgow-por1871: Thomas Annan: mounted carbon portraits from"Memorials of the Old College of Glasgow"(each cropped) : all portraits 21.5 x 16.4 | 36.5 26.0 : upper left: Professor of Divinity John Caird (1820-1898) : lower left: Professor of Greek Edmund Law Lushington (1811-1893) : right: Regius Professor of English Language and Literature John Nichol (1833-1894) (note housefly on academic robe at right below chair back) : from PhotoSeed Archive

 

Besides University professors, Annan did many fine portraits of Free Church of Scotland ministers in addition to ministers, elders and missionaries affiliated with the United Presbyterian Church. A unique album of these portraits, reproduced in Woodburytype, is held by this archive, with several appearing in the 1875 Annan published volume Historical Notices of the United Presbyterian Congregations in Glasgow. As a businessman running a commercial studio, Annan marketed many of these images, often as variants, in the carte de visite format. The following is a listing of Annan’s Scotland studios with dates supplied by Peter Stubbs of the EdinPhoto web site:

 

202 Hope Street, Glasgow:      1862-72
77 Sauchiehall St. Glasgow:     1873-74
153 Sauchiehall St. Glasgow:   1875-91
75 Princes St. Edinburgh:        1876-82

 

8-david-mcrae-minister-gla1873-74: Rev. David McRae of Glasgow: (a leading temperance movement leader from the 1850-70's) mounted Woodburytype portrait with facsimile autograph: Thomas Annan: 8.3 x 5.6 | 19.4 x 10.5 cm : from unique folio album of nearly 60 Woodburytype photographs taken ca. 1862-1882 by Thomas Annan and most likely John Annan of ministers, elders and missionaries affiliated with the United Presbyterian Church: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

Coming full-circle: Learning Photogravure


In 1883, after purchasing the British rights to a new process of Photogravure invented by Czech artist Karl Klíc, (1841-1926) Thomas Annan and son James Craig Annan traveled to Vienna in order to personally learn its intricacies.  As defined by our good friends over at Photogravure.com, Klíc’s 1879 refined process of “reproducing a photograph by printing on paper from an inked and etched copper plate” was a vast improvement over that of William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1858 patented Photoglyphic Engraving process. Thomas Annan was so smitten he wrote Klíc the following appreciation:

 

“I beg to express my entire satisfaction with your gravure process… The process itself is very valuable to a fine art publisher because of the beauty of the work and the crafted manner in which the plates are executed. With many thanks to me and my son I remain, Dear Sir, yours very truly” - Thomas Annan 
March 11, 1883  (10.)

 

Fittingly renamed the Talbot-Klíc Dust Grain Photogravure by Klíc, the process was soon fully embraced by Annan’s publishing concerns, T. & R. Annan and Sons of Glasgow, Hamilton and Edinburgh, who utilized photogravure for high-quality, fade-resistant and archival plates, mostly copies of original works of art, an established specialty.  Soon, the new process, which involved the individual hand-pulling of plates from a copper-plate press, was further exploited and refined by the budding photographer James Craig Annan in the early 1890’s, whose original photographic negatives “from nature” during his travels to the Continent, particularly  North Holland and Italy, were directly reproduced in gravure after an ongoing period of great experimentation and refinement.

 

Like his father Thomas, who reproduced and exhibited some of the Hill & Adamson calotypes in carbon during the 1870’s and early 80’s using his own refinements of Swan’s process, (11.) James Craig Annan fully embraced Talbot-Klíc gravure printing to reinterpret their landmark achievements in early pictorial portraiture as well as other studies including the fisherfolk of Newhaven near Edinburgh. In this regard, beginning as early as 1890, Annan produced a series of hand-pulled gravures re-photographed from the original Hill & Adamson paper calotype “negatives in the possession of Andrew Elliott.” (12.) Later in 1905, working as part of the T & R Annan firm of Glasgow, he produced a further series of 20 plates printed on Japan tissue. (13.) These copper plates were then re-used for a series of gravures published in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work XI, (1905) XXVIII, (1909) and XXXVII, (1912) thereby introducing new generations to the masterful legacy left by Hill & Adamson.

 

10-james-craig-annan-girl1890-1912: "Girl in Straw Hat" (Miss Mary McCandlish) : vintage hand-pulled photogravure trimmed and mounted within cream paper folder: possibly a 1912 Camera Work proof: 21.5 x 15.9 |25.5 x 19.0 cm: James Craig Annan after original paper calotype ca. 1843-47 by Hill & Adamson: reproduced in CW XXXVII: originally in Margaret Harker Collection: from PhotoSeed Archive

 

I’ll end this lengthy post with an excerpt from an appreciation of D.O. Hill by James Craig Annan, who was fortunate to have met and been inspired by the artist when he was only six years old- the result of his father being an intimate friend of Hill. This was included as part of a larger essay he wrote on the Scottish pioneer for Camera Work XI, and he makes the strong case their achievement was a direct result of their portrait collaborations for the Disruption painting:

 

“Thus the partnership began which was to produce the noble and extensive series of portraits which for powerful characterization and artistic quality of uniformly high excellence have certainly never been surpassed and possibly not even rivaled by any other photographer. This may seem an extravagant appreciation of Hill’s work, but it has been arrived at after mature deliberation.” (14.)

 

-David Spencer

 

 

Notes:

1. British Artists: Their Style and Character: With Engraved Illustrations. : David Octavius Hill, R.S.A.: in: The Art-Journal: London: October 1, 1869:  p. 317 
2. William F. Stapp.: Hill and Adamson: Artists of the Calotype: from: Image: George Eastman House: Spring/Summer: Vol. 36: No. 1-2: 1993: p. 55
3. Sara Stevenson: Scottish Masters 12: Thomas Annan: National Galleries of Scotland: 1990: p. 5
4. After discussions with Hill, the copy photograph of the “Disruption“canvas was taken by Thomas Annan after he had ordered “a large Photographic Camera of the latest and most perfect construction” from Dallmeyer: in: 1866 Disruption prospectus by Hill: published in: Scottish Masters 12: p. 7
5. Alan Newble has thoughtfully, and no doubt, painstakingly, compiled the key as part of his website, with further insights on the historical importance of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Chalmers.
6. In correspondence between Annan and Hill in late December, 1865, Hill stated he wanted the Disruption painting reproduced in thousands of photographs in 3 separate sizes. “He (Hill) was hoping for prints half the size of the painting, and suggested that Annan make them in three parts, joining them together around the figures rather than in an arbitrary straight line.” : from: Hill & Annan letters: quoted in: Scottish Masters 12: pp. 6-7. Alas, Hill’s desires were trumped by technical limitation, with carbon prints supplied by Annan printed in 1866 in 3 sizes, as stated in the Photographic News of London: “Photographs of the picture will be issued in three sizes, ranging from 24 inches by 9 inches to 48 inches by 21 1/4 inches, at prices ranging from a guinea and a half to twelve guineas.”
7. The carbon print edition of Old Closes first appeared in 1877, with two later photogravure editions featuring 50 plates each printed by James Craig Annan published in 1900. Fine examples of the albumen prints from Old Closes can be found along with superb background on their making at the University of Glasgow Library special collections department online resource found here.
8. cited in Scottish Masters 12: p. 8
9. Ibid: p. 13
10. from: Photogravure.com online resource accessed August, 2014. While in Vienna under Klíc’s watchful eye, the Annans had produced a photogravure of Noel Paton’s painting of The Fairy Raid.
11. Scottish Masters 12: p. 8
12. David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson: in: The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Weston Naef: New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: p. 378. Elliott, (1830-1922) was a nephew of D.O. Hill
13. Ibid, p. 378
14. excerpt: David Octavius Hill, R.S.A. ⎯1802-1870.: J. Craig Annan: in: Camera Work XI: New York: edited and published by Alfred Stieglitz:1905: p. 18 

 

 

 

 

Faun, Fawn, Puck, Pan

 

Recently, I posted three vintage, gelatin-silver photographs taken by Anne Brigman, (1869-1950) one of the very few west-coast members of the American Photo-Secession. Not less than 24 hours later I was contacted by James Rhem, an independent scholar in the History of Photography and the published author of monographs on Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Aaron Siskind.

 

composite-blogSan Francisco resident Jan Law (1908-1994) was the subject of these photographs taken by west-coast Photo-Secession member Anne Brigman beginning around 1921. The two photographs on either side of the bottom row are of Law taken later-sometime in the mid-1920's. For the most part, the portrait style seen in this grouping represents another side of Brigman's life: that of the commercial photographer. (all photographs courtesy family of Jan Law-now privately owned)

 

James informed me he had been researching and writing a book about Brigman for some time. Like any scholar worth his salt, he was inquiring about further insight from my photographs. He wrote:

 
The mystery of the child model had interested me naturally as has the mystery of the male model (though I think I have solved that). My research has built up quite a web of names of friends and connections for Brigman and I wonder if I knew that name of the descendent (or his/her ancestor) if I could then make the connection?


Before James had contacted me, I had done some basic genealogical research for the subject in these photographs and had become intrigued when stumbling upon an image by Brigman titled “The Fawn”. This photograph, sold at auction in 2001, carried the same date, 1921, as two of the photographs in my collection. I wondered, could the young model in my photographs be the same subject depicted in “The Fawn”?

 

extasy-little-faun-blog-ws2"Extasy—The Little Faun", taken in 1921, is the title given by Anne Brigman of this ethereal portrait of Jan Law. (1908-1994) The artistic study is an intriguing example of commissioned portraiture by Anne Brigman, who was living in Oakland, CA when it was taken. Image: 25.0 x 19.3 cm | rough-surface, double-weight gelatin silver photograph glued along upper margin to primary support: 45.9 x 38.1 cm | 26.9 x 21.1 cm (outer double mount) from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

As a collector, I typically seek out provenance details on material I purchase for this archive, and in this case I was ready: I already had a name of the young boy featured in the three photographs I had purchased from his distant family member. But now, with this inquiry from James, I was spurred to do more in order to hopefully expand Brigman scholarship in general. The former owner of the three works, who will remain anonymous, had told me:

 
We think the person in the photos is my husband’s grandfather Jan Law.  My husband says he thinks the photos were probably taken in the San Francisco area.

 

the-faun-title-1c2The support verso of "Extasy—The Little Faun" (1921) is titled in graphite and believed to be by the hand of Anne Brigman. (1869-1950) The possibility exists of course that some might perceive "Faun" spelled as "Fawn". We have chosen to stick with the "Faun" of Roman mythology however since it is more consistent with Brigman's intent.

 

Connecting dots and/or figuring out what dots to follow in the first place in collaboration with others like James are all important goals for PhotoSeed in determining photography’s lost and hidden history. In a back and forth via email,  James commented further on the child model’s identity in my 3 photographs after I speculated a bit further and asked if he might be the same model depicted in “The Wondrous Globe”, a photograph appearing in Camera Work 38, published in 1912:

 
I don’t believe there are other images in the three issues of Camera Work in which AB has work that feature this model, but he is used in other images that I have never seen printed. Some interesting negatives I’ve examined at Eastman House have him in them with wings actually etched into the negative!

 

wondrous-globe-camera-work-hjcPhotographed by Anne Brigman in 1908, "The Wondrous Globe" (detail shown) appeared as a hand-pulled Japanese tissue photogravure in the Alfred Stieglitz journal Camera Work 38 in 1912. Although the subject of the photograph remains unknown, the model is depicted faun-like, sporting goat horns seen here and appearing in the same High Sierra mountain location as different versions on the George Eastman House online archive. Playing a flute, the boy is alternately titled "Piping Pan" (76:0058:0029) and for "Puck & The Bee", (76:0060:0016) he is shown with wings etched onto his back. It would almost seem the ever-changing nature of Mythology itself played the central role of Brigman re-casting this model in different ways. Detail: image: 12.1 x 19.9 cm | support: 12.5 x 20.3 cm | from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

The images I recall were made up in the mountains which raised the question for me about who this might be  .  . a child of the guide? Someone who lived in the area? Family friend? I’m not sure you’d notice these in the online view. They had not come to my notice until I was actually there going through negatives.

 

our-illustrations-brigman-in-camera-work-detail-v26Along with photographer Karl Struss, whose work was also featured in Camera Work 38, editor Alfred Stieglitz commented on some of the working and technical aspects of Anne (then known as Annie) Brigman's work, which he reproduced in the issue as five hand-pulled Japanese tissue photogravures.

 

Another query to my California contact while this was all going on with James set the record straight for me, however. This person helpfully confirmed the dates for Jan Law I was able to find online from multiples sources of the U.S. Census. Eleven years old in 1920, Jan Law was born on January 25, 1908 (originally his name was listed as John in the 1910 Census and living in Seattle, WA) and living in San Francisco along with his mother Cora (Wilcox) Law, who is listed as a widow. The 1910 census also listed Jan as having an older brother named George (born around 1905).  Law died on January 27, 1994 in Orange, California.

 

faun-diptych-mj7Left: "The Faun", by Anne Brigman from 1913 (private collection) Right: "The Fawn" as seen in online Christie's auction sale #9324 (2001). Faun or Fawn, this photograph was later copyrighted by Brigman in 1921, and carried the following auction house description: Gelatin silver print. 1921. Signed, dated and copyright insignia in ink on the recto. 9¾ x 7 5/8in. (24.7 x 19.3cm.)

 

Now, with the confirmed dates for Law and some additional research, I can say confidently he was not the subject of “The Fawn”, otherwise titled “The Faun”, according to the George Eastman House online archive. This is because the Eastman version, a variant full-frame example of this image, carries the date of 1913 as well as their full-frame copy negative of it titled: “The Faun First Edition (Not So Good) 1913”. (It comes from the series title: “Book 2, Anne Brigman”) Explaining the previous 1921 date now seemed easy enough. For some reason, perhaps to use in a future publishing project, Brigman chose to copyright this particular image eight years after she had taken it. The only Law family connection in my mind with “The Faun” would be if Jan Law’s older brother George had been used as the subject. In this case he would have been around eight years old when it was taken, but he appears much older in this photograph, in my estimation. My research also brings into play the possibility a young man photographed in 1915 by Brigman, which can be seen in the online collection of the Oakland Museum in California, could have been the subject of “The Faun”. Or not. Maybe you might know. I’ll conclude this post by letting James Rhem have the final word on this, with his cautionary insight and expertise, in my mind the principals guiding future Brigman legacy scholarship:

 
Yes, it is unlikely we shall ever know with certainty the names of these male sitters. She did call upon her sister Elizabeth’s husband for a couple of photographs, but the male children remain a bit of a mystery. Your investigation of the Law images helps create more plausible speculation about the identity. By that I mean the images I have written to you about that place the child in mountain settings far from Oakland are most likely of children who went along on these camping trips rather than locals. These trips (which I have replicated with a photographer friend in the last several years) went to remote locations in the Sierras, but they often involved groups of woman friends and sisters. So, if one were able to establish more about the degree of friendship with Mrs. Law for example it would strengthen the speculation.

 

brigman-sig-1s2A detail showing an Anne Brigman signature, embellished here with a seagull in flight, appears on the main support below the right corner of the double-mount for "Extasy—The Little Faun", a study of San Francisco resident Jan Law (1908-1994) taken in 1921.

 

…What is (to me) interesting about all of this (since establishing the identity of the boy in her art photographs is only a matter of curiosity, not important interest) is that it establishes the fact Brigman did lots of commission work. Because her life is often seized upon as an example of noble, unfettered feminist freedom, you will sometimes find it written as fact that she never did commercial — i.e. for money — work. This is absolutely not true and I have known it for years. The only thing that’s troubling about this is what a narrow and ideologically skewed idea of biography and feminist freedom it reflects. Brigman was a very free figure and very free in her enjoyment of and expression of feminine energies, but she also had a practical side and had to make a living. Also, I think in many of the examples I have seen she certainly did not feel that her portrait work was entirely divorced from her artistic work, again, especially in her photographic portraits of women.

 

annie-brigman-dryads-camera-work-w9hIn the female nude study titled "Dryads", taken by Anne Brigman in the High Sierras in 1907 and shown here in a detail from the hand-pulled, Japanese tissue photogravure published in Camera Work 44 (1913), the act of holding a pose in the great out-of-doors yielded beautiful results. For the long posing stretches however, it was surely not easy on the models, which included herself. Detail: image: 15.9 x 20.4 cm | support: 20.1 x 24.1 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

Neue look at Kühn

 

An objective reviewer I am not when it comes to photographers considered major figures in the emerging artistic aesthetic movement from the beginning of the 20th century.

new-york-lampost-bannerWhile a lampost banner with the Heinrich Kühn photograph "Study in Tonal Values III, (Mary Warner)" taken in 1908 is displayed along East 86th Street near the New York City museum Neue Galerie for the show "Heinrich Kuehn and his American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen", the evolving tableau of life on the street below provides for a continual source of photographic delights. PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

Instead, shameless promoter would perhaps better describe my enthusiasm for Austrian Heinrich Kühn, (1866-1944) the subject of a museum exhibition now taking place in New York City. And with that,  I heartily recommend a visit to:

 

Heinrich Kuehn and his American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen

 

now on view at the Neue Galerie through August 27th.

 

exterior-neue-galerieOriginally finished in 1914 for the industrialist William Starr Miller II at 1048 Fifth Avenue by the architectural firm Carrère & Hastings, (responsible for the design of the New York Public Library) the Neue Galerie was first opened to the public in 2001 and specializes in German and Austrian art and design. PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

It was exhilarating to be back in New York so soon after my attendance at the Webby awards, but this was a working trip for PhotoSeed, with the first half of the day spent uptown at the Neue Galerie and the rest spent downtown working on an upcoming post on the history of The Photographic Times

 

triptch-kuhnLeft: self-portrait of Heinrich Kühn from October, 1901 issue of Photographisches Centralblatt; Middle: detail: multiple-color lithograph by Munich illustrator Fritz Rehm for German dry plate manufacturer Otto Perutz; Right: detail: Peter Behrens Jugendstil calendar. (all from PhotoSeed Archive) All three artists represented here were active participants in the Munich Secession at the end of the 19th century, an important exchange of creative ideas and radical thought made real through their own works. Behrens, whose work is in the permanent collection at the Neue Galerie, later went on to be one of the founders of the German Werkbund, a German modernist arts & crafts movement founded in 1907.

 

 After emerging from the subway at 86th street from Grand Central and walking towards Fifth Ave.,  I spied a lamppost promotional banner for the show, complete with a readymade arranged beneath it: a toilet bowl cast off near the curb and the activity of the street all around it. For those game enough, New York is the kind of place where street photography could easily supplant any type of planned tourist activities, and so my inner muse, taken with the scene, made a few quick frames before venturing a short distance to the entrance of the impressive pile located at 1048 Fifth avenue-a New York landmark completed in 1914 by Carrère & Hastings- the same architectural firm that built the New York Public Library.

 

staircase-neue-galerieThe sweeping wrought-iron staircase seemed a perfect fit for whisking visitors to the third floor exhibition galleries at the Neue Galerie, where some of the breathtaking landscape work of Kühn was on display in the form of vintage, large format gum-bichromate prints. An enlarged exhibition panel above the visitors at center is taken from the photograph "Mary Warner and Edeltrude on the Brow of a Hill", ca. 1908-originally taken by Kühn on a color Autochrome Lumière plate, first introduced in 1907. PhotoSeed Archive photograph by David Spencer

 

The converted Georgian-style townhouse was originally built for industrialist William Starr Miller II (1856-1935) and purchased in 1994 by art dealer and museum exhibition organizer Serge Sabarsky and businessman, cosmetics heir and art collector Ronald Lauder. German for “New Gallery”, the Neue Galerie is a museum featuring early 20th century German and Austrian art and design, which recently celebrated it’s 10th anniversary in November, 2011.

 

4th-gallery-family-dramaThe 4th gallery exhibition space, titled "Family Drama", is taken up at right by a dark cherry-stained wood lattice panel: a re-creation of the backdrop Kühn utilized for some of his portraits. Photograph courtesy of the Neue Galerie.camera-work-33-portraitOne of many portraits Kühn used the backdrop for was for this study of Tyrolean sculptor and painter Hans Perathoner. (1872-1946) Taken ca. 1906-1907, the portrait was reproduced as a hand-pulled photogravure in Camera Work XXXIII (1911). Image courtesy of Photogravure.com

 

In doing background for this post, I learned from The New York Times that the current Kühn exhibit is only the 2nd show of photography to be featured at the museum, and is curated by Kühn scholar Dr. Monika Faber, a champion for his and other work from this period, and currently the Director of the Photoinstitut Bonartes in Vienna.

 

tea-still-life-version-iii-Tea Still-life, Version III (Teestilleben, III. Fassung) is a fine example of Kühn's still-life work showing his masterful control of light. Later reproduced as a hand-pulled photogravure by the Berlin atelier Otto Felsing and appearing in the January, 1908 issue of Photographische Rundschau , it was also most likely taken in one of his new home photographic studios on Richard Wagner Strasse, designed by Wiener Werkstätte founders Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser. Image: (13.1 x 17.7 cm) from PhotoSeed Archive

 

A contributor to and co-editor of the essential 2010 volume “Heinrich Kühn: The Perfect Photograph,” Faber can be seen in this video describing Kühn’s role in the development of artistic photography as well as his relationships with Alfred Stieglitz, who he first met in 1904 (Stieglitz had known of Kühn since 1894) and Edward Steichen in 1907, whose atmospheric work, we learn in the video, was inspired by some of Kühn’s massive (for the time) gum-bichromate photographs featuring sweeping and expansive Tyrolean landscapes.

 

early-success-galleryThe 2nd gallery exhibition space, titled "Early Success", features a re-creation at far right of the 6th exhibition that took place at the Alfred Stieglitz gallery "291" on Fifth Avenue-from April 7-28, 1906. The Viennese and German photographers Heinrich Kühn, Hans Watzek and Hugo Henneberg-known as the Cloverleaf or Viennese Trifolium, all had vintage, massive frames on display. Photograph courtesy of the Neue Galerie.

 

Not surprisingly, I soon discovered taking pictures is off-limits in the second and third floor exhibition rooms of the museum, which made it easier for me to scribble notes and not worry about the supplemental visuals for this post, most of which I’ve pulled from the PhotoSeed Archive. Emerging on the third floor, I first ducked into gallery 5 to take in a video narrated by Neue Galerie director Renée Price on Kühn’s pioneering 1907 involvement, along with Stieglitz and Steichen, with color Autochrome Lumière plates. I talked with the guard near the entrance who smiled when I asked how many times he had already seen it. Needless to say, he probably will not take the bait to see it again here on his day off, but you of course should.

 

kuhn-landscapeOne of the original vintage framed photographs on display in the "Early Success" gallery was this landscape study titled "Twilight" (Dämmerung), which Kühn did in 1896. This hand-pulled Chine-collé photogravure version published in the important Austrian photographic journal Wiener Photographische Blätter in February, 1897 surely does the original an injustice: a bi-color gum bichromate print (enhanced with watercolor) that is certainly unique. Image: (15.6 x 11.8 cm) PhotoSeed Archive

 

The show is arranged in five galleries, with a total of 105 vintage photographs in a variety of photographic media. In addition to the aforementioned work by Stieglitz and Steichen, Kühn’s fellow Viennese Trifolium partners Hans Watzek and Hugo Henneberg are also included, as well as select examples by Photo-Secession members Frank Eugene, Gertrude Kasebier, George Seeley and Clarence White.

 

white-excursion-2White Excursion, (Weiẞer Ausflug) from ca. 1905, is a fine early example of genre landscape study by Kühn incorporating his family members taken in the Tyrol. (most likely nanny Mary Warner and daughter Edeltrude) After the 1907 introduction to the public of Autochrome Lumière plates, he would create elaborate staged scenes similar to this but with specially made clothing worn by his models in order to take advantage of the added color dimension. Image: from September, 1908 issue of Photographische Rundschau: ( 17.7 x 13.1 cm) PhotoSeed Archive

 

The two galleries I found most fascinating were the 4th gallery, which the museum assigns the collective title “Family Drama” and the 2nd gallery, called “Early Success”. In Family Drama, a massive, dark cherry-stained wood lattice panel forms the backdrop along one wall which has been installed specially for this exhibit. According to a museum guard, the panel blocks large windows overlooking Fifth Ave. The prop is a subtle and welcome touch for those familiar with some of Kühn’s portrait work, which often balances expanses of dark (the paneled background) with select highlights for the figure posed in front of it.

 

stieglitz-steichen-kuhn-eugeneThere were several examples of original vintage prints taken by American Photo-Secession founder member Frank Eugene (1865-1936) included in the show, in order to show Kühn's active participation in and acceptance by the upstart Photo-Secession (founded 1902) in America. In this study taken in 1907 by Eugene, who can be seen at far left of frame, Alfred Stieglitz, Heinrich Kühn and Edward Steichen (far right) examine Eugene's photographic work. Detail: platinum print, Yale Collection of American Literature: from: Wikimedia Commons

 

According to a caption in this gallery, these panels were originally intended to be moved around as part of a photographic studio, and were (presumably) designed by Wiener Werkstätte founders Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser for Kühn’s Innsbruck home located on Richard Wagner Street, where he lived with his children and English nanny Mary Warner from 1906-1919 (another studio in the home featured white paneling).  Kühn’s ability to move the panels depending on exterior lighting conditions-from windows, skylights, and reflected means-were a way of giving his portrait backdrops a distinctive style.  A means to an end in order for him to maintain fastidious control of his pictorial output.

 

camera-work-galleryThe 3rd gallery exhibition space was the smallest, and was an homage to the importance of the American Photo-Secession journal Camera Work, edited and published by Alfred Stieglitz. Seen here on both sides are all twelve vintage select plates from the journal as well as a framed gum bichromate photograph: "Anna with Mirror" done by Kühn in 1902 and later published in Camera Work XIII in 1906. Photograph courtesy of the Neue Galerie.

 

Speaking of control, another photographic caption in this gallery stated Kühn went so far as to have special clothing tailored in hues of black, white and gray for his children to wear while they posed for these portraits. Later, this also applied after 1907, but with colored clothing worn by them as well as Mary Warner while he made some of his most famous images in outdoor settings using the brand-new Autochrome Lumière plates.

 

steichen-camera-work-44The distinctive cover of "Camera Work" featured Art-Nouveau typography done by American Photo-Secession founder member Edward Steichen, who was also an accomplished painter at the time he hand-designed the lettering sometime in 1902 before traveling to Paris to live and study. Detail of entire cover shown. top: logo: (8.6 x 14.0 cm) PhotoSeed Archive

 

Walking over to the adjoining 2nd gallery, Early Success, the idea of gallery repetition is repeated along the long dimension of the space. Here, the idea of the famous Stieglitz “291” gallery is hinted at, with pleated, olive-drab fabric lining the lower portion of the wall while early 20th century reproduction period spotlights are aimed toward massive examples of colored and monochrome gum-bichromate prints.

 

two-towers-stieglitz-44One of Alfred Stieglitz's signature New York photographs is "Two Towers — New York", a cityscape taken in 1911 showing his masterful balancing of shades of gray in a complex urban environment. The following description appears in "The Key Set", volume 1: "The view looks south from a stoop on the west side of Madison Avenue, toward the towers of Madison Sqaure Garden (left) and the Metropolitan Life Building (right)." This plate, with full support shown, from Camera Work XLIV, 1913 (image: 20.5 x 16.0 cm | support: 28.1 x 20.0 cm ) From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

As I counted 29 framed prints in this room alone, the 291 wall is intended to showcase an approximation of the actual work (loaned from the Stieglitz bequeath at the Metropolitan as well as other institutional and private collections) from Viennese Trifolium members Kühn, Henneberg and Watzek. It was truly an extraordinary moment to be able to see these large-scale photographs up close, further elucidated on for their time as follows in a gallery caption:

 

The scale of the prints themselves may have convinced a broader public that photographs might be an artistic medium in its own right.


Kühn of course was the star in this room, with some of his earlier successes shown dating to the mid 1890’s. The cloverleaf Trifolium ceased to exist after 1903, once Watzek died and Henneberg soon turned his attention to etching.

 

venice-steichen-44-0k9In the same year (1907) Heinrich Kühn had sat down with Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and Frank Eugene to discuss their work, Steichen's own exploration of shades of gray by means of the the camera took shape in this waterway study of a gondolier navigating a Venetian waterway. Initially titled "Late Afternoon - Venice", the work was first published in the Steichen number of Camera Work 42/43 (1913) as a duogravure before Stieglitz had it reprinted as a hand-pulled photogravure on Japan tissue for Camera Work 44, (1913) where it was simply titled "Venice". This plate, with full support shown, from Camera Work XLIV, 1913 (image: 16.7 x 20.1 cm | support: 19.9 x 28.0 cm ) From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Finally, in the third gallery, a bridge for how Kühn and his contemporaries were embraced and given credibility in the form of 12 select images from the Alfred Stieglitz journal Camera Work are shown. The small room is further anchored on one side by a large gum-bichromate print titled Anna with Mirror, a 1902 genre study by Kühn showing a young woman from behind fixing her hair while reflected in a mirror.

 

anna-bag-v7hLeft: "Anna with Mirror", taken by Kühn in 1902, was titled "Girl with Mirror" when Alfred Stieglitz included it as a photogravure plate in Camera Work XIII in 1906. A reproduction greeting card of the image was included in a boxed set purchased by this author from the Neue Galerie book store and carried home in the brown-paper bag at right, a fine example of modern typographic art for sure. Left: 19.5 x 14.4 cm: image courtesy: Photogravure.com Right: paper bag: 28.2 x 19.2 cm

 

Reproduced by Stieglitz as a photogravure in Camera Work in 1906, the Neue Galerie chose to include a reproduction of it, along with five of Kühn’s other photographs, in an affordable set of greeting cards sold in their first floor gift shop: a nice memento and excuse for future correspondence procured by this visitor on my way out to Fifth Ave.

 

 


Quaker with Soul

 

When researching this site’s new online gallery for a view album of Japanese tissue photogravures several months ago titled Life and Nature, (1889) I had no idea how important the American painter and amateur photographer George Bacon Wood Jr. (1832-1909) would figure in my respect for someone pursuing both disciplines equally well.

 

george-wood-at-easel-b-km1"My Father at his Easel", a plate showing the Philadelphia artist and amateur photographer George Bacon Wood Jr. (1832-1909) included with the 1916 volume A Girl's Life in Germantown, written by his youngest daughter Elizabeth.

 

 With the introduction of the brand new dry-plate, the most advanced technology of its’ day invented by George Eastman and others and marketed to the masses beginning around 1880, the world of amateur photography soon opened to those who rejected the unforgiving and laborious wet-plate collodion process that preceded it. After reading about the break-through in his Philadelphia newspaper, Wood jumps into amateur photography with all the gusto, passion and creative problem solving he had long applied to his occupation as landscape painter.

 

In a short biography of Wood I’ve prepared along with the online material, I’ve included a humorous self-account of his 1882 inauguration into the medium.  This includes his first efforts at exposing one of those new dry plates while stalking one very uncooperative cow in a field, a bovine that just would not stay still long enough for Wood to make a decent exposure. Being a  perfectionist however meant not giving up so easily. A challenge for sure, but not insurmountable, and for his efforts, one of the least unheralded people in the history of photography I’ve since encountered who continued to make his livelihood with the brush.

 

painter-with-cow"Artist Painting Cow" : unknown American photographer: vintage mounted platinum photograph from PhotoSeed Archive circa 1905-10: (11.8 x 16.2 cm)

 

Life and Nature was originally purchased by this writer in late 2007 and squirreled away until a few months ago, when I started posting similar view albums whose gorgeous tissue gravure plates were done by Ernest Edward’s New York Photogravure Company.  On first look, I had no idea Wood’s background was that of a painter, and I certainly had no clue what the “B” for the initial of his middle name stood for. I was also intrigued by the fact the album’s cover went so far as to omit reference to his full first name-shortening it to “Geo” instead of George. A period advertisement for the work included here does spell out his name, but neglects to include the fact he was a Jr.

 

wood-june-1890-22Period advertisement for the view album "Life and Nature" (1889) reproduced in Ernest Edwards' periodical "Sun & Shade": June, 1890: whole #22. The album features Japanese tissue photogravures by George Bacon Wood Jr. "From Original Studies".

 

A complicated or simple soul this Wood chap?  More research revealed an impressive amount of his photographic work held by The Library Company of Philadelphia, with the following exciting statement from their website:

 

In 1982, for example, we acquired more than 500 photographs by Philadelphia photographer and painter George Bacon Wood from a descendant.  Additional gifts of Wood photographs throughout the 1980s increased the collection by about 300 more images.  This body of photographic work along with paintings from other institutions and private collections will form the basis of a Library Company exhibition in 2014.

 

Timely to be sure, and more reason for me to hone in on some of Wood’s background. The majority of online sites, mostly art galleries who have handled his paintings in the past, with the exception of the Library Company, state he died in 1910. I have no idea how they got even some of the basics wrong, as his New York Times obituary clearly states his passing was actually June 17th, 1909:

 

Wood. — At Ipswich, Mass., June 17, George Bacon Wood, formerly of Staten Island and Philadelphia. Services Monday, June 21, at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Bernard Hoopes, Germantown, Philadelphia.

 

Figuring the cause was also worth the shelling out of two bucks on my part, I purchased the September/October, 1979 issue of the defunct magazine American Art & Antiques, which seemed to contain one of the more important accounts of Wood’s working life. It not only helped, it lead me to another rich source in the form of a posthumous volume penned by Wood’s youngest daughter Elizabeth: A Girl’s Life In Germantown, published in 1916.

 

wood-home-in-germantownDetail: "Germantown Avenue" (12.4 x 20.5 cm): tissue gravure plate from the view album "Life and Nature". (1889) Wood and his family, including his seven children, lived in this stone home located at 5502 Germantown Ave. in the city of Philadelphia. (later changed to 6708 Germantown)

 

Although the 1979 article dealt mostly with his career as a painter, the book itself revealed this gem concerning Wood’s embrace of photography:

 

“Above the woodshed, which was attached to the barn, my father had a studio built, with a north window, skylights, and an outside stairway. He had seen the announcement in a newspaper that the dry plate had been invented, and he immediately became interested in photography, since the dry plate made the process easier and more reliable.”

 

And yet, the volume also stated this sobering observation from the daughter on her father’s artistic endeavors:

 

“My parents were of Quaker origin, my father following this religion to the end of his life. His mother and father were very strict in their beliefs and this made the study of art a difficult one for him, for an artist in those days was looked upon by Quakers as almost predestined to the loss of his soul. My father’s aspirations doubtless caused much unhappiness to his parents, and his study of art under this disapproval was erratic and pursued almost entirely alone. Persistence, however, carried him to success.”

 

wood-compositeLeft: portrait of George Bacon Wood Jr. from "Prominent Amateur Photographers", a plate featuring Wood and others published in the November, 1893 issue of "The American Amateur Photographer". Right: detail: "Elizabethtown, N.Y." (From the original painting by George B. Wood" published as the frontis to "A Girl's Life in Germantown" by his daughter Elizabeth W. Coffin. (1916) Wood spent much of his summers painting and taking photographs in this area of the Adirondack mountains located in the far northeastern corner of New York state's Essex county.

 

Furthermore, Wood’s wife Julia, born Keim Reeve, was an Episcopalian, with the implication set forth by her youngest daughter in the 1916 book as being of a more tolerant persuasion, at least in relation to artistic pursuits . Mother of his seven children, (she married Wood in Oct. 1858) her last years before her untimely death in 1887 were spent as an invalid occupying a wheelchair in a room of their stone house on Philadelphia’s Germantown Avenue-surely a sad and ultimately tragic event for Wood to endure for his remaining life.

 

A Few Details on the Artist’s Background

 

George Bacon Wood Jr.’s parents: Horatio Curtis Wood (1803-1879) and Elizabeth Head Bacon (1807-1846) had ten children, of which he was the third born on January 8, 1832 at 150 N. Fifth St. in the city of Philadelphia.

 

In early 2017, a Bacon family descendant, working from a bible in their possession that once belonged to the artist’s maternal grandmother, Mary Ann Warder Bacon, kindly supplied PhotoSeed with the following details regarding George Bacon Wood Jr.:

 

Horatio Curtis Wood (1803-1879) and Elizabeth Head Bacon (1807-1846,) actually had two sons named George Bacon Wood. The first son died of scarlet fever just seven weeks before the second son was born, so he was also given the name George Bacon Wood, only with the Jr. suffix. … there were several tragedies in the Wood family when GBW Jr. was young. Just before GBW Jr.’s eighth birthday, his younger brother, John Bacon Wood, died from a respiratory ailment. When he was only 13, his mother, Elizabeth, died two hours after the delivery of her 10th child, and three years later, (in 1848-ed) GBW Jr.’s older brother, Richard, suffered horrific injuries in a train accident in Maryland, lingering for over a week before his death. (According to a newspaper article about the accident, a witness speculated that the injuries to Richard’s legs were severe enough to require amputation.)

Because he was a Quaker, (known as the Religious Society of Friends) George Bacon Wood Jr.’s  moral compass precluded him from taking part in the American Civil War. (1861-1865) Before embracing photography, he continued his occupation as a landscape painter, with many fine studies done in New York state’s Adirondack mountain region while spending summers and even a winter in Elizabethtown. He was also a genre painter however, which revealed itself later on in his photographic studies-often featuring his own children in what we would perhaps consider today as being overly contrived situations.

 

civil-rights-detailDetail: oil on canvas painting: "The Fifteenth Amendment" (Civil Rights) (73.9 x 65.4 cm.) by Philadelphia artist George Bacon Wood Jr. According to Christie's Auction house of New York City, which last sold the work in late 2001, this painting was exhibited in the centennial 1876 exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

 

A genre painting done by Wood sometime after 1870 titled The Fifteenth Amendment, or Civil Rights, is quite revealing with the additional knowledge that it’s creator was a Quaker. After Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, this American Constitutional amendment prohibited governmental bodies within the United States from denying voting rights to one “based on that citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, otherwise known as slavery. Wood’s painting, formerly owned by art historian Donelson F. Hoopes, the great-great grandson of Wood and the aforementioned author of the 1979 article, is pictured along with it, described in the caption thus: “this whimsical genre scene conveys the artist’s observations of social change in America following the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870”.

 

Showing two well-dressed patrons face to face at an outdoor market, one being white and the other an African American, with the latter presumably borrowing a clay pipe from the white gentleman in order to light his own, I would further argue the work shows Wood’s keen empathy for his fellow human being, and therefore a rebuttal of sorts to a later discovery instigated by none other than Alfred Stieglitz in 1900.

 

chain-gangDetail: "Chain-Gang": (8.5 x 18.8 cm) tissue photogravure plate from the view album "Life and Nature" (1889)

 

It was at this time that Wood gave a lantern slide lecture, “The Camera in the Hands of an Artist”  before members of The New York Camera Club. A  later critique of the talk signed by Stieglitz and published in an issue of Camera Notes revolved however around genre photographs most decidedly not whimsical in nature:

 

One of the Mouths of the Mississippi,” a young negro boy biting into a watermelon, will illustrate the general tone of the lecture.    A.S.

 

For anyone who has spent time leafing through American mass-circulation photographic journals from over a century ago, these types of overtly racist genre photographs-often not limited to the work of amateurs but also appearing in period advertising-crop up with alarming frequency. In concurring with Stieglitz, these types of images and misappropriations personally make me wince, their only possible justification now serving as damning evidence worth saving as part of the historical record.

 

But Wood was human, so perfection can never be an option, even a century after his passing. One of the images included in Life and Nature, titled Chain-Gang, features a grouping of puppies chained together. Also a very sad photograph when seen by modern eyes, but almost certainly viewed in its’ day (1888) as downright cute by many.  The loaded title to the work, with the connotation of shackled prisoners, doesn’t soften it. However, genre photography of this type practiced by Wood, as well as many others in his day, should not easily be pigeon-holed, type-cast, or set in stone in my estimation. The evidence? Pups as movable props for this one example. More than one photograph taken by Wood around this time-featuring the same or similar litter of puppies-surely brought smiles to many faces, and still has the power to do so. In conclusion, the following example, titled Dog Show, gives credible evidence Wood indeed had a heart, empathy, and most certainly, an enduring and intact soul. Please visit here to learn more and see Life and Nature.

 

dog-showDetail: "Dog Show" : photographic plate by George B. Wood published in: "A Girl's Life in Germantown" by his daughter Elizabeth W. Coffin. (1916)