National Gallery of Canada Presents 19th-Century British Photographs Exhibition

Until April 17, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) presents 19th-Century British Photographs from the NGC, a fascinating exhibition of some of the national collection’s key holdings, including some that have rarely been shown. The exhibition traces the development of photography in Britain over the course of the Victorian era, from early, salted paper prints, to daguerreotypes, to magnificent turn-of-the-century platinum prints.

From the portraits of family and friends, small, familiar and domestic scenes, to grand and exotic scenes, the photographs in 19th-Century British Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada present a great range of subjects. Viewers will see images of a rapidly changing society: old courtyards and buildings, urban landscapes and village scenes that record daily life in Victoria’s Britain. In all, more than 100 photographs, many taken by the most celebrated photographers of the time, such as William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Frederick Evans, chosen among more than 2,000 images in the NGC’s 19th-century British photographs collection. This is an outstanding collection, which began to take shape in 1967, and which comprises some of the most important 19th-century British photographs in existence.

“The Gallery has a superb collection of British photographs,’’ said NGC Director Marc Mayer. “We owe its success in no small part to the passion and generosity of our donors who helped us build it for Canada.’’

Who were the British photographers of the 19th-century…
What began as a series of experiments conducted by men of science quickly turned into a leisure activity for wealthy upper-class men and women. Rapid changes in photographic technology coupled with an insatiable public desire for images meant that not long after its invention photography, as a source of employment or pleasure was available to the middle and, in some cases, even the working classes. Census records show that several of the photographers whose work is now part of the NGC’s collection began their professional lives as opticians, lens makers, chemists, or merchants.

…and what were their interests?
19th-Century British Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada also reveals some of the major preoccupations of the period, subjects that were of interest to photographers of the Victorian era along with the tastes, biases and prejudices of their time and place. Contemporary issues such as the need for reshaping the urban environment, the plight of the poor, and debates about social reform along with an unquestioning optimism about Britain’s continuing imperial power are implicit in many of the photographic images from this era. The photographs are evidence of their makers’ fascination with the natural world, their need to understand how things work and their drive to codify and to document.

19th-Century British Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada is the third instalment in a series of exhibitions that showcase the depth and variety of the national collection of photographs. Modernist Photographs appeared in 2007 and
19th-Century French Photographs in 2009. The latter is currently on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until March 20.

On Thursday, March 3 at 6 pm, the public is invited to hear Larry Schaaf internationally respected photo historian, Baltimore, Maryland, as he gives a lecture entitled “I have captured a Shadow!” William Henry Fox Talbot and the Invention of Photography. Organized in conjunction with the exhibition. In the Lecture Hall.
Cost: adults $5, seniors and students $4, members $3.

Exhibition curator
Lori Pauli is the Associate Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Canada and and curator of 19th-Century British Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada. She curatored several exhibitions including Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky (2003), Acting The Part: Photography as Theatre (2006), and Utopia/Dystopia: The Photographs of Geoffrey James (2008). She has contributed an essay on the work of Lisette Model, Diane Arbus and August Sander for a catalogue for the Kunsthalle, Vienna, and one on the work Oscar Gustave Rejlander for the Moderna Musset in Sweden and has published essays, reviews and entries for journal History of Photography, Queen’s Quarterly, Scottish Journal for the History of Photography and the Encyclopedia of 19th-Century Photography.

With an introduction by the exhibition curator Lori Pauli, and an essay by NGC Photographs Conservator, John McElhone, the catalogue documents the developments in photographic technologies in 19th-century Britain; from historically important paper negatives to platinum prints, works by Julia Margaret Cameron, William Henry Fox Talbot, Frederick Evans, Roger Fenton, and Henry Peach Robinson, among others, are beautifully illustrated and examined. The catalogues also comprises texts by Ann Thomas, Jim Borcoman, Larry Schaaf, Roger Taylor, and David Harris. The 176-page soft cover volume is on sale at the NGC Bookstore for $49 and at, the Gallery’s online boutique.

Image: Henry White, The Garden Chair, 11 September 1854. Albumen silver print, 17.8 x 14 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art, including the extensive collection of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Gallery also maintains Canada’s premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st century, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians. To do so, it maintains the largest touring art exhibition programme in the world. For more information, visit

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