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The National Portrait Gallery Acquires Rare Oscar Gustav Rejlander Album

The National Portrait Gallery has acquired a rare album from photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander.

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Oscar Rejlander’s self-portrait Oscar Rejlander; Mary Rejlander (nee Bull) John and Minnie Constable   Young Woman
Oscar Rejlander’s self-portrait, by Oscar Rejlander, © National Portrait Gallery, London Oscar Rejlander; Mary Rejlander (nee Bull) by Oscar Rejlander © National Portrait Gallery, London  John and Minnie Constable looking into the fine ‘All Hallows Eve’ (John Constable, Minnie Constable) by Oscar Rejlander © National Portrait Gallery, London   Unidentified Young Woman, by Oscar Rejlander, © National Portrait Gallery, London


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, it was announced today, Monday 9th May 2016.

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.

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.

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 also a portraitist of extraordinary skill who influenced famous 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. The album also features a small number of well-known genre photographs, including ‘Trying to Catch a Fly’, ‘The Infant Photography Gives Painting a New Brush’ and ‘Head of St John the Baptist in a Charger’.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London 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.”

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, says, “This is an excellent addition to the National Portrait Gallery’s 19th-century collections and displays and we’re delighted to have helped make the acquisition happen.”

The Rejlander album will be on display in the Gallery in October 2016. To see what other photography exhibtions are currently running, take a look at our exhibitons section of the site. 

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