National Library Of Wales Puts Victorian Photo Album Online

By David Prudames | 17 November 2003
Shows a black and white photograph of two women sitting down and posing for a photograph, while in the background a young man is poking his head around the backdrop.

Photo: Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906). Courtesy of The National Library of Wales.

A collection of photographs taken by one of the world’s first female photographers has been put online by The National Library of Wales.

Taken in the 1840s and 50s by Swansea-born resident Mary Dillwyn, the 43 images offer a unique insight into Victorian family life and include what is believed to be the first snowman captured on film.

The leather-bound album was bought by The National Library of Wales earlier this year and has now been digitised and made available to browse online on the institution’s website.

Shows a black and white photograph of a girl making a snowman, while to her left a man is shovelling snow. On her right there is a wheelbarrow.

Photo: the first snowman to be captured on film!?! Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906). Courtesy of The National Library of Wales.

Despite being sold to an American dealer at auction in 2002, the library was able to secure an export embargo and raise the £8,225 needed to save it for the nation.

"The National Library was delighted to have acquired this wonderful album of early photographs," explained Director of Collection Services Gwyn Jenkins.

"It will be a fine addition to our national collection of over a million photographs dating from the dawn of photography to the new digital age. Seeing Mary Dillwyn photographs online shows how far the whole photographic process has travelled in 150 years."

Shows a black and white photograph of Mary Dillwyn, sitting for a photograph holding an open book.

Photo: the artist steps in front of the lens. Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906). Courtesy of The National Library of Wales.

The daughter of a Swansea industrialist, Mary Dillwyn was related by marriage to William Henry Fox Talbot, the man many credit with inventing the modern photographic process.

Using a small camera able to take pictures using short exposures, she departed from the stiff formal portraiture more commonly associated with the Victorian age, instead exploring the new technology as an art form.

As well as taking studies of flowers, shots of buildings and portraits of friends and family, Dillwyn captured images of pigeons and chickens, children playing and intimate spontaneous moments.

Shows a black and white photograph of a young boy looking away from the camera and smiling slightly.

Photo: Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906). Courtesy of The National Library of Wales.

One image catches a boy peeping from behind a wall at two old women having their portrait taken, while in another a young girl is captured busily building a snowman at Dillwyn’s family home of Penlle’r-gaer.

Given as a gift to her niece, Susan Franklen, Dillwyn’s album had stayed in the possession of her family until it was put up for sale at Christie’s in 2002.

The National Library of Wales was able to buy it thanks to the support of the National Art Collections Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and the library’s own Friend’s organisation.

Each of the photographs can now be viewed online via The National Library of Wales’ website. Click here to pay it a visit.

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