Fading Away

Henry Peach Robinson

British, 1830–1901

Fading Away

Albumen silver print
Image: 9 5/8 × 15 1/2 in. (24.4 × 39.3 cm)
Mount: 13 7/16 × 18 3/8 in. (34.2 × 46.6 cm)
Gift of Alden Scott Boyer
Inscriptions signed and inscribed in pencil on recto of mount, BRC: Photographed from life by Henry P. Robinson / Printed in 1858 on homemade albumenized paper same year as plate broken-with starch

inscribed in pencil on original overmat (stored separately): Photographed by H.P. Robinson, 1858, this print the same year / Engraved in The Illustrated Times, October 30, 1858

inscribed in pencil on original overmat (stored separately): Fading Away

inscribed in pencil on original overmat (stored separately): [from poem,"Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)]:
"Must then that peerless form
Which love and admiration cannot view
Without a beating heart, those azure veins
Which steal like streams along a field of snow
That lovely outline which is fair
As breathing marble, perish?"

TextThe debate about whether photography could be “Art,” which began with the medium’s invention, was a particular preoccupation of Henry Peach Robinson, a painter who took up photography in 1852, convinced of its potential as an art form. Inspired by his contemporary Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813–1875), he began making “combination prints”—an early form of photomontage that involved printing portions of several different negatives on the same sheet of photographic paper. Robinson described the technique in his 1868 book, Pictorial Effect in Photography, Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers, arguing that his method allowed photographers to observe the same principles of composition and “pictorial effect” used by painters. Robinson’s pictures tended toward genre scenes and moral allegories familiar to Victorian audiences from engravings after paintings by artists like Sir David Wilkie (1785–1841), but this particular photograph—his most famous image—caused considerable controversy when it was first exhibited. Some viewers felt that a family mourning a young girl on her deathbed was a profoundly private moment and therefore an unsuitable photographic subject—a point of view illustrating how deeply entrenched the notion of photographs as truthful records had already become, less than twenty years after the announcement of the medium’s invention.

Lisa Hostetler, Ph.D.
Curator in Charge, Department of Photography
Label for A History of Photography [Rotation 1]
May 9–September 28, 2014
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