following article is from the March 1908 edition of The
Foremost among that bright band of
leaders in the development of photographic art in the
latter half of the 18th century stands the name of O. G.
Rejlander, who for many years resided in Darlington
Street, and whose studio is still to be seen at the
corner of Art Street.
Looking at this forlorn wreck, now
used as a lumber room, it seems difficult to realize
that some of the most famous photographic pictures ever
produced were printed and worked-up in this building.
O. G. Rejlander as Garibaldi.
O. G. Rejlander was a native of
Sweden. He was the son of an officer in the Swedish army,
and lost his father early in life. Being thrown on his
own resources he determined to cultivate that inborn
taste for painting and the fine arts, of which even at
this early age, he had shown great promise.
He went to Italy, that mecca of all
true art learners, and studied the works of the great
Italian masters at first hand. Studying and making
copies of them, which he afterwards sold, the proceeds
providing him with a living.
He came to Wolverhampton about the
year 1853, when he was forty years old, and settled in
Darlington Street. Soon after his arrival in England he
became acquainted with such pioneers of the photographic
art, which was then in its infancy, as Dr. Diamond, who
was largely responsible for the introduction of the wet
collodion process plate for photography - H. P.
Robinson, W. England, Lake Price, etc., and such
literary and artistic celebrities as Charles Dickens,
Alfred Tennyson, Gustave Doré, and many other celebrated
men of the time. He soon felt the fascination of the new
process and decided to adopt photography as a
The art training he had received as
a painter, combined with his natural artistic perception,
soon raised him to the front rank as a maker of
He had a keen sense of humour, and
appears to have been singularly happy in the selection
of his models. His portrait and genre pictures being
marked by a refinement and naturalness, that makes one
wonder how, in those far off days of long exposure
necessitated by the slowness of the photographic plate,
he was able to produce such happy results.
His personality must have been
particularly magnetic, for his models appear to be quite
oblivious of the presence of the camera.
Some of the composite pictures were
made up by printing from as many as thirty different
negatives, while many required the production of from
three to ten different negatives to obtain the resultant
"Please Give Us A Copper".
"The Baby Race". Composite picture
from 3 negatives.
This is happily illustrated in the
composite picture entitled "The Baby Race", made up from
three different negatives, and yet so harmoniously
composed, as to give the effect of one photograph!
All his pictures exhibit a marked
power of composition and arrangement rarely possessed by
any photographer. Some of the examples of his work here
shown, are from originals in the possession of Alderman
C. T. Mander, who, through the courtesy of Mr. Gerald P.
Mander has most kindly permitted me to reproduce them
for the illustration of this article.
Many of these masterpieces of
Rejlander were exhibited in London and elsewhere, and
evoked varied criticism.
|Rejlander appreciated just and fair criticism,
whether of praise or blame, but he had all an artist's
intense dislike of ignorant people who scoffed at him
and his art.
The two following
letters, written to his friend, H. P. Robinson, of
Leamington, are evidences of his restiveness and
contempt for the ignorant in art matters:
Jan. 25th, 1859.
I have been very unwell or I
should have replied before. I have not had the "Luty"
from Thomas, so I shall be glad to get one from you, or
exchange to your choice.
I am tired of photography for
the public, particularly composite photos, for there can
be no gain and there is no honour, but cavil and
misrepresentation. The next exhibition must then only
contain ivied ruins and landscapes for ever, besides
portraits, and then stop.
O. G. Rejlander.
February 10th, 1859.
I thank you much for the photos,
I like the pose of "Luty", and can see a capital arm
through the sleeve, though it is not visible (Hibernia).
The face of "Fading away", can be painted from, and that
ought to be our ambition to produce such work with so
much detail that it may serve as a guide to the painter.
I shall send you a roll of photos next week, going to
It's a pity that there are so
many clever word writers who get the task allotted to
them to write about what they know not. My idea of
criticism is: 'This is good', 'that is bad', 'such way
would be better', 'try again', and 'hope for better'.
The best we could do would be to do nothing this year,
and that would be easier and cost less, and see how they
would like that.
Yours very truly,
O. G. Rejlander
The allusion to "Luty" and "Fading
Away", refers to two pictures made by H. P. Robinson,
"Fading Away" provoked a storm of hostile criticism.
While in Wolverhampton he had the
good fortune to secure as his friend and patron the late
Mr. William Parke, the Wolverhampton bookseller, who for
so long had his residence at the Old Deanery.
Under his patronage Rejlander was
introduced to other patrons and sitters in the Midlands,
and made such progress that his position became an
In the making up of his composite
pictures, he invariably made a sketch composition of the
subject intended, and would paint a suitable background
and then wait until he had found the model he wanted.
He was now (1859) in his prime, and
two years before had produced the great composite
picture "The Two Ways of Life". This great picture
measured forty inches in length, and was produced by
combination printing from no fewer than thirty
negatives. It was prepared for, and exhibited at the
Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, of 1857.
Rev. G. Cottam. "Remarkable! lost
my pen and now my spectacles are gone".
Rejlander the photographer
introducing Rejlander the volunteer.
It has been stated that the late
Prince Consort had a large share in the composition and
arrangement of this picture. However this may be,
Rejlander came under Prince Albert's patronage, and was
continually visiting Buckingham Palace, in consultation
with the prince, for whom he executed a series of
photographic copies from Raphael's works.
It is stated that some of the
figures in his great work. "The Two Ways of Life", were
artists' models from Manchester, and others were taken
from some of his friends in Wolverhampton, including Mr.
Coleman, then manager of the Wolverhampton theatre. The
volunteer movement appealed to him strongly, and he
became a member of the Artists' Corps of Rifle
Volunteers in London.
|He also joined the first Volunteer Company (5th
Corps) formed in Wolverhampton, in July, 1860. One of
his best pictures is a composite study of himself, as "Rejlander
the photographer introducing Rejlander the volunteer".
Another famous one, bubbling over
with humour is "Ginx's Baby & Co.", equally good is the
study of the Street Arab, "Please give us a Copper".
Among Alderman C. T. Mander's collection are included
such gems as "Ginx's Baby", "Gustave Dore", "Playing at
Hamlet", "After Murillo", "Poverty", and "Will he care
for me?", a copy of Rejlander's portrait of the Prince
Consort, and a fine portrait study of the late Alfred,
It has been stated that but for the
untimely death of the late Prince Consort, Rejlander's
circumstances towards the end of his career would
probably have been better than they were. However this
may be, adversity overtook him, and he was unable to
make any provision for the future.
He died in London on January 18th,
1875, in his 62nd year. His married life must have been
singularly happy, for when the parting came, almost his
last words were, the pathetic cry to his wife, "Oh, my
poor darling, who will take care of you?"
The infant Samuel.
Five days after his death he was
buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, the Artists' Corps of
Volunteers forming an escort, while old friends of the
"Circle Club", of which he was an original founder,
attended to pay a last tribute to one whom they regarded
as "the greatest leader in the direction of artistic
expression by photography".
He knew he could only leave his
widow little more than the memory of a reputation, a few
debts, and a little knot of friends, earnest and
helpful, but not wealthy.
The friends banded together and
raised a fund which cleared the debts, and left Mrs.
Rejlander in a fairly comfortable position. A smaller
house was found for her, and for many years she
maintained herself by printing for the trade and for
amateurs, and by selling prints from her late husband's
The success achieved by Rejlander,
working under the almost insuperable difficulties which
attended the early days of photography, is as remarkable
as his results are unique. Had he lived in the present
day, with its extraordinary development of photographic
plates and processes, his success would have been
Wolverhampton has sheltered many
strangers in its long history, but few have shed such
lustre upon the town as this now almost forgotten
artist, who made his home here some 55 years ago, and
who worked so ardently in his efforts to raise
photography from the narrow confines of a mechanical
process, into the wider realms of artistic expression