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Tuesday, May 17 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Photographic Materials) Enhanced: Nineteenth Century Hand-coloured Photographic Portraits

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This paper traces the evolution, in the 19th century, of the use of photography in portrait painting, linking it both to developments in technology and to historic notions about artistic practice. Conservation examination and analysis, cross-collection museum research and historical references are employed in the elucidation of the development of an important artistic technique. The Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum in Montreal contain over 1,300,000 images, documenting the social history of Montreal, Quebec and Canada. About 400,000 images were taken by the Notman Photographic Studios, founded by William Notman in 1856, and run by his family until 1935. Notman was a trailblazer of new technologies, a prosperous entrepreneur and a leader in the cultural life of Montreal during the second half of the 19th century. The archives also include about 900,000 images by other Canadian photographers, dating from the 1840’s to the 21st century. The Museum’s collections contain over 300 known or assumed hand-coloured photographs, mostly portraits, from both William Notman’s company and the studios of other Canadian photographers and artists. While the focus was on the Notman studio production, a range of independent artists and other photographic studios was also studied for comparison, through the examination of pastels, watercolours and oil paintings dating from the 1850’s to the 1890’s. A selection of hand-coloured portraits was examined with X-ray fluorescence to establish the presence of image forming or toning elements in the pictorial layer, indicating photographic printing on paper or prepared canvas. Those works for which results were negative were further examined with infrared photography and microscopy to determine the method of transfer used, from the possible use of a grid to image projection. Using information acquired from examination and analysis, further research was undertaken across the Museum’s collections to better understand the historical context of these works and the techniques used to create them. These collections are strongly inter-related, holding, for example, the partial contents of William Notman’s library, as well as paintings and drawings not in the Notman Photographic Archives that are related in some way to a photographic process. While difficulties in the interpretation of analytical results and the relevance of historical texts were considered, certain conclusions were reached about the importance of photographic practice in the arts during this period that are pertinent to both conservation practice and historical research. The present study tracks the rapid (although often hidden and denied) adoption of photography in portraiture at a particular time and place, and affirms the ubiquity and malleability of the photograph in 19th century artistic practice.

avatar for Anne MacKay

Anne MacKay

Head, Conservation, McCord Museum
Anne MacKay is the Head, Conservation at the McCord Museum in Montreal, where she oversees all conservation and preservation activities. She has interned and worked as a conservator in museums nationally and internationally, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum... Read More →

Tuesday May 17, 2016 2:30pm - 3:00pm EDT
Room 516 CD