scar Gustav Rejlander was one of the country’s leading figure photographers from the late
1850s to his death in 1875. He produced portraits and posed genre scenes often dealing with the subject of poverty.

He often used himself, his wife Mary and children as models and specialised in combination printing. 

His first famous work was called ‘The Two Ways of Life’, a combination print that was produced in 1857. He spent about 15 years in Wolverhampton at his house in Darlington Street and in 1862 moved to London where he opened a studio in Malden Road. He made a modest living, but towards the end of his life money was in short supply. He died in 1875 leaving his wife in poverty.

Early Years

Rejlander was born somewhere in Sweden in 1813. His death certificate states that his father, Carl Gustaf Rejlander, a stone mason by trade was an officer in the Swedish army. Edgar Jones states in his book1 that an extensive search had been carried out to locate Rejlander’s father from the Swedish Army records but no trace could be found.

At an early age Rejlander started painting and eventually studied in Rome where he supported himself by doing portraiture, copying old masters and lithography. It is thought that he visited Spain and afterwards returned to Rome where he had a romantic liaison with a young lady and through this visited England. By 1841 Rejlander was living in rooms on Castle Hill at Lincoln, where he was initiated into freemasonry. A charcoal sketch that he made at the time of a local election still exists.


1. E.Y. Jones, 'Father of Art Photography: O.G. Rejlander 1813-75', David and Charles, Newton Abbot (1973).

2. A.G. Fielding, 'Rejlander in Wolverhampton: His Sponsorship by William Parke', History of Photography, Volume 11, Number 1, Jan-March 1987.

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