Knightsbridge, London, looking East towards Hyde Park Corner, c1902, courtesy of National Media Museum/SSPL
More than 100 years after they were first shot, the National Media Museum is presenting, for the first time, the earliest colour moving pictures ever made. "These films were made by photographer and inventor Edward Turner using a process he patented in 1899 with his financial backer Frederick Lee," says the museum in a statement. "Experts at the museum have dated the films to 1901/02, making these the earliest examples of colour moving pictures in existence."
The first commercially successful Kinemacolor system was patented in 1906 by George Albert Smith, and shown to the public three years later. However, Smith's invention was based on Turner's work, which had been regarded by film historians as a practical failure, according to the museum, which found the images in its collection.
"Turner developed his complex three-colour process with support, first from [Frederick] Lee and then from the American film entrepreneur Charles Urban," says the National Media Museum. "Using a camera and projector made by Brighton-based engineer Alfred Darling, Turner developed the process sufficiently to take various test films of colourful subjects such as a macaw, a goldfish in a bowl against a brightly striped background, and his children playing with sunflowers, before his death in 1903, aged just 29. Urban went on to develop the process further with pioneer filmmaker Smith." However, Turner's widow never received a penny from her husband's invention.
Now, using digital technology, the National Media Museum, with the help of Brian Richard and David Cleveland, as well as experts at the BFI National Archive, have been able to bring these images back to life.
"We sat in the editing suite entranced as full-colour shots made 110 years ago came to life on the screen," says Michael Harvey, curator of cinematography at the National Media Museum, in a statement released to BJP ahead of the official announcement. "The image of the goldfish was stunning: its colours were so lifelike and subtle. Then there was a macaw with brilliantly coloured plumage, a brief glimpse of soldiers marching and, most interestingly, young children dressed in Edwardian finery. I realised we had a significant find on our hands. We had proved that the Lee and Turner process worked, but it remained to identify who those children were and establish as precisely as possible when these first colour images were made."
The films date back to 1901 and 1902, making them the earliest colour moving pictures made, according to the museum. And they will now go on show in Bradford as part of a free display.
"This wonderful rediscovery highlights the untapped potential of the National Media Museum's collection, and the Lee & Turner films can now take their rightful place alongside other unique artefacts and world-firsts which the museum holds," says Paul Goodman, head of collections at the National Media Museum. "Moreover, it highlights the museum's leading role in validating and challenging received wisdom about the subject matter it represents: film history can now be rewritten as a result of this marvellous find."
For more details, visit www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk.
Frames displaying three-colour separation. Boy with ensign and girl on a swing, 1902-04, courtesy of National Media Museum/SSPL
Scarlet macaw on perch, c1902, courtesy of National Media Museum/SSPL
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