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The AGO’s very first photograph

April 25th, 2017

British Photographer, Charlotte Brontë at age 34, from an 1850 rendering by George Richmond (British, 1809–1896), around 1855. Ambrotype: sixth plate; leather case, embossed velvet pad. Overall (glass): 6.4 x 5 cm (2 1/2 x 1 15/16 in.) Frame: 7.2 x 5.9 cm (2 13/16 x 2 5/16 in.). Gift of Ronald Hewat, Kaslo, BC, 1925. © Art Gallery of Ontario.

Did you know that the AGO’s Photography Collection features more than 60,000 works? Discover early photographs of famous paintings and people as we share some gems from the AGO Photography Collection 1840s–1880s, launching a new gallery dedicated to photography as part of the AGO’s Look:Forward reinstallation project.

Caroline Walker, C.W. Bell Album, 1875. 31 Albumen prints, watercolour, black ink in leather-bound, gold-embossed album, 33 × 28 × 3.3 cm. Purchase, donated funds in memory of Eric Steiner, 2003. 2003/1.1 .39 © 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario.

Sparked by an ambrotype portrait of Charlotte Brontë from the late 1850s, this fascinating installation showcases works from photography’s earliest decades and the diverse uses the medium was put to from the beginning, curated by the AGO’s Sophie Hackett.

The image of Brontë was the first photograph to come into the AGO Collection, donated in 1925. It is a photograph of a print made from the

best-known portrait of celebrated British author Charlotte Brontë, a chalk drawing made by George Richmond, a prolific portraitist of the Victorian period. Brontë died in 1855 and few portraits of her exist. The photographer who made the ambrotype created a souvenir in memoriam and capitalized on the public’s interest in likenesses of well-known people, stoked by the advent of photography in 1839 and the author’s fame. Indeed this ambrotype was a gift. The dedication reads: “A birthday present to/ dear Fanny from her loving friend EA March 28, 1858.”

Platt Babbitt, A Party of Three Tourists Visiting Niagara Falls, c. 1855. Ambrotype, 17.1 × 21.6 cm. Purchase, funds donated by Penny Rubinoff, 2015. 2015/13 © 2017 Art Gallery of Ontario.

Also featured in this installation: get a glimpse of rare works like Gustave Le Gray’s photograph from 1849–1850 of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa (around 1503-1519), a technical feat for the time. Focus in on Platt D. Babbitt’s full-plate ambrotype of three tourists posing near the edge of Niagara Falls (around 1855). Or peek inside whimsical photo album pages created for the C.W.Bell family, by Caroline Walker in 1875.

Be the first to see this revealing collection of photographs, opening on April 29, then come back often to discover even more AGO photographic treasures. We’ll be rotating selections every few months as part of Look:Forward.

This installation is presented in partnership with this year’s Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

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