Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - November 2016

Young Photographers by Frederick Daniel Hardy (1862)

Young Photographers

November's Object of the Month was chosen by the Museum’s Visitor Services & Admin Officer Anne Nielsen.  The painting by Cranbrook Colony artist Frederick Daniel Hardy forms part of the Ashton Bequest, a group of 31 Victorian oil paintings collected by Alfred Ashton and bequeathed to the Museum in 1952 by Ashton’s son Ernest Russel Ashton . Titled The Young Photographers, the work was created in 1862 and is considered to be of one of Hardy’s finest paintings.

The painting depicts the interior of a sitting room with opened doors allowing views into the adjacent rooms including a photographer’s studio. A woman is sat by the fire with an infant in her lap and a framed photograph portrait in her hand while watching the children at play in front of her. The children have made a make-shift camera using a chair and a blanket under which a boy is looking through. Another, older, boy is directing the camera towards the books positioned on the table in front of them. Watching the two boys are three children including a little girl holding a kitten in her arms. The imitation camera is positioned in line with the photographer’s camera visible in the background. Above and on top of the fireplace are several framed pictures, possibly miniature portraits or photographic portraits. The windows look onto a street where a man, likely the photographer, can be seen trying to convince a couple to have their portrait taken.

The painting was likely commissioned from the artists by Alfred Ashton. Another larger version, presumably the original, exists and is currently in a private collection. Ashton’s son, Ernest Russel Ashton, was a distinguished photographer who travelled extensively.

Three aspects of photography are suggested in the painting: the commercial and public aspect of photography exemplified by the photographer’s studio; the private use of photographs evidenced by the mother holding a framed photograph in her hand and finally, the future of photography embodied by the children at play. The wallpaper is coming off in places indicating that the inhabitants might be from a lower income class. This illustrates that by the 1860s, photography had become an accessible commodity.

It is unlikely that there was a professional photographer based in Cranbrook at this time due to its small size. Instead nearby fashionable Tunbridge Wells could have been the inspiration. Only four years after the creation of this painting, local photographer Thomas Sims set up his photography studio in Tunbridge Wells. By the 1860s the collodion wet plate process had overtaken the use of daguerreotypes for portrait photography. This was due to the collodion process being less time consuming and more affordable.

Frederick Daniel Hardy (1827  -1911) was a member of a loose group of artists known as the Cranbrook Colony which included Hardy’s older brother George, Thomas Webster and George B. O’Neill. As the name implies the group was based in Cranbrook from the mid 1850s. Hardy moved to Cranbrook in 1854 followed shortly by Webster. The style of the Cranbrook colony has been likened to the Dutch school (seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish painters). However, instead of scenes of disorderly conduct and vulgarity often favoured by the Dutch artists, the Cranbrook colony preferred romantic and idyllic depictions of rural scenery and domestic bliss. While not masking advances in technology as evidenced by Hardy’s decision to focus on photography, the simple and quiet life suggested in these Victorian paintings appealed to buyers increasingly inundated by urban life and scenery. Hardy carried on painting into the early years of the 1900s and died in 1911. His daughter Gertrude continued painting in her father’s studio on the high street in Cranbrook until the 1930s.

Anne says: "I chose this painting as my object of the month because it's subject matter coincides with our upcoming exhibition Capturing on Collodion. It also highlights the Ashton Bequest of which currently only a few works of art are on display in our Museum."

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