The following article is from the March 1908 edition of The Wolverhampton Journal.

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 profession.

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 photographic pictures.

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 composite picture.

"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.

Dear Sir,

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.

Yours truly,

            O. G. Rejlander.



February 10th, 1859.

Dear Sir,

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 town tomorrow.

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 assured one.

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, Lord Tennyson.

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 negatives.

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 greater still.

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 and beauty.

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