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Rare Victorian photography acquired by London’s National Portrait Gallery

Images © Oscar Gustav Rejlander, courtesy National Portrait Gallery

An extremely rare and important album of photographs by the celebrated early Victorian photographer, Oscar Gustav Rejlander, most of which have never been exhibited before, has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. The Rejlander album will be on display at the gallery in October 2016.

The scarcity and remarkable condition of the album, which was sold by a Yorkshire auction house after lying undiscovered in a family collection for more than 140 years, make it one of the most significant 19th century British photographic objects to have come to light in recent decades.

The album was acquired in November 2015 following receipt of a grant from the Art Fund after a temporary Export Bar was placed on it in March 2015. This prevented the album from leaving the UK after it was sold to an overseas buyer last year.

Anticipating Photoshop by more than a century, Rejlander is best known for his pionering work combining multiple negatives in the darkroom to create new, articifial compostions. He was a noted influence for photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Lewis Carroll and who also collaborated with Charles Darwin and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The National Portrait Gallery album is one of a small set of private albums Rejlander put together to showcase his portrait work.

Previously unseen photographs include several self-portraits, comprising one of Rejlander himself, taken in the 1850s, as well as a previously unknown portrait of Rejlander and his wife Mary Bull, a frequent collaborator and model for her husband.

Rejlander photographed numerous illustrious sitters during his career, several of which feature in the album. They include the poet and dramatist Sir Henry Taylor and the Hon. Lionel Tennyson, grandson of the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. .

Director of the National Portrait Gallery Dr Nicholas Cullinan says: “We are delighted to welcome this album into the Gallery’s Collection, not least because it will provide access to important examples of portraiture from the history of photography. We also hope it will enable visitors to engage with Victorian photography in a new way and make comparisons with later developments.”

Dr Phillip Prodger, Head of Photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: “The Rejlander album becomes one of the jewels in the crown of our already impressive collection of 19th century photographs. It transforms the way we think about one of Britain’s great artists. And it contains some of the most beautiful and expressive portraits of the Victorian era.”

For more information, see here.