Magdalen College Tower, 1856
Philip Henry Delamotte (attr.)
An albumen print view of Magdalen College Tower at Oxford, showing the tower and garden of the college, with a young man lying on the grass, his head resting on his hand and his jauntily placed top hat shading his eyes.
A pencilled inscription recto in the lower margin in a period hand reads: ‘Magdalen Tower Oxford.’ A printed label verso gives the full title: ‘Magdalene [sic] College Tower, from the River Cherwell, Oxford.’ This exactly matches in every particular – including the spelling mistake – the title of a work listed in Roger Taylor’s Photographs Exhibited in Britain 1839-1865: A Compendium of Photographers and Their Works (National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, Occasional Paper No 5, published 2002). It was exhibited by Philip Henry Delamotte at the London Photographic Society Exhibition of 1857, held at the beginning of that year at the Gallery of the Society of Water Colour Painters, 5 Pall Mall East, London. Delamotte exhibited 21 other works in the exhibition, the majority of them views of Oxford and its colleges. This one was numbered 289 in the exhibition catalogue.
The same photographs had been exhibited the previous month (December 1856) at the Art Manufacture Association. One reviewer claimed that there was some ‘unavoidable distortion’ of the buildings but that ‘[t]hese pictures are, however, remarkable for artistic composition, fine definition, and judicious balance of light and shade’ (Norfolk News, 13 December 1856).
According to an advertisement in The Times (6 March 1857), a set of 40 ‘Photographic Views of Oxford’ by P.H. Delamotte were available as a set in a portfolio for £8 8s or individually priced at 5s each.
The British photographer and illustrator Philip Henry Delamotte (1821-1889) was a Professor of Drawing at King’s College, London. He first gained attention as a photographer for his series of photographs of the dismantling of the Crystal Palace in 1852 and its subsequent reassembly at Sydenham, a project he completed in 1854.
Condition: the print presents a few small imperfections in the area of the sky and a loss of colour at its upper left-hand corner but is otherwise in excellent condition, with very good tonal range. It is mounted on a large sheet of stiff, firm card; this presents a few marks verso, caused by mounting on a secondary support, but is otherwise very clean.
Dimensions: the print measures 8.3” by 6.5” (21.1 cm by 16.4 cm); the mount measures 17.8” by 13.7” (45.3 cm by 35 cm).