Henry Irving as ‘Becket’

Henry Irving as ‘Becket’

This photograph is a profile portrait of the greatest British stage actor of his era, Sir Henry Irving. (1838-1905) Irving was photographed by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron in February 1893 for his Lyceum Theater (London) stage portrayal of Thomas à Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered in 1170 and later venerated a saint and martyr. The play, ‘Becket’, was written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Irving wears a bald-pate wig in the photograph.

H.H.H. Cameron, the son of British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, maintained a photographic studio at 70 Mortimer St. W. in London and copyright registered this photograph on March 9, 1893. A cabinet card photograph was issued by the Cameron studio shortly after this sitting with the mount bearing copyright. Like mother like son- Cameron registered a total of six photographs of Irving in the role of Becket. Several of these cards were later published by Cameron bearing  an original facsimile note penned to him by Irving on the verso dated April 7, 1893:

“Dear Cameron, I am very glad that you are about to publish your photograph of Becket as I consider it a remarkable work of photographic art. It is certainly most picturesque and a perfect example of what can be done in sun-painting and on all sides I am told it is an excellent likeness. Sincerely yours, Henry Irving”  (1.)

This version of the photograph is an example printed in platinum, mounted on white China paper and printed with The Cameron Studio at lower left. Additionally,the provenance of this example is intriguing, as Irving has personalized it to Malcolm Watson in 1899. A bit of shrewd marketing on his own watch? Watson joined London’s Daily Telegraph that same year and continued as its theater critic until 1926.

1. Online photographic sales records: 2003, 2005

Original copy for this entry posted to Facebook on February 12, 2012:

Thespians, including the great British stage actor Sir Henry Irving seen here photographed by Englishman Henry Herschel Hay Cameron in 1893, have had a long history of sitting before the camera with the sole intention of marketing themselves to the masses. This stunning platinum print was formerly owned by and inscribed to London Daily Telegraph theatre critic Malcolm Watson in 1899 by Irving-a shrewd act by him considering it was Watson’s first year on the job in that position.

Henry Irving as ‘Becket’

Image Dimensions23.6 x 19.0 cm

Support Dimensions34.7 x 30.0 cm