english collections of women photographers in national museums
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English collections of women photographers innational museumsVal WilliamsPublished online: 01 Oct 2013.
To cite this article: Val Williams (1994) English collections of women photographers in national museums, History ofPhotography, 18:3, 242-244, DOI: 10.1080/03087298.1994.10442357
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087298.1994.10442357
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Women in Photography Archives and Resources
English Collections of Women Photographers in National Museums
Major collections have an important. but often unexamined position in the historiography of photography. In addition to offering evidence of the past or a reflection of contemporary times. they call attention to particular artists or genres. It is unusual in Britain for major public collections to bear the names of their curators; instead. collections becomc identificd with the institution that houses and cares for them. Rarely do we question the predilections and agendas of those who purchased or acquired works and archives. or properly consider the effect on a collection of policies and interests of th~'SC institutions that may change radically over the years. Collections themselves are continuously being re-assessed: a collection. or elements of it. can be substan-tially reinterpreted within the space of a decade. For example. work that in the nineteenth century may have ~'CIl acquired as architectural photography. perhaps catalogued only by place name. can be relocated under its author. often bringing to light a new set of masterworks.
From the major public collections. a whole set of cultural enterprises radiates. Exhibitions. publishing projects. and educa-tional programmes often draw their core material from work avail-able in public collections. The keepers of these collections are bound to maintain impartiality towards the needs of historians. curators. and critics. Nevertheless. as fashions in photography change. they need to remain aware of new directions and new concerns.
Finance. of course. plays a major part in the making of collections. As photographs have become more valuable commo-dities. the days when enormous archives - representing either a single artist or a single collector's collection - could be bought for very litde have all but passed. Financial restrictions limit the ability of collections to grow, and thus many major collections in England have become associated with particular periods or artists that were collected in the past.
To be collected by a major institution has great significance: it affects how past photographers are viewed, but it also has an important impact on contemporary artists. The work collected attains status that reflects on the artist's career and on the value of his or her photographs in the art market. Work becomes validated in a way that has no significant parallels. Collectors, whether from major national institutions or from the private sector. often develop important and longstanding relationships with those whose work they collect.
In Britain collecting policies formulated by committees or advisory groups do not seem to have any schematic structure. and remain the province of empowered individuals. Such individua-lism within national collecting has both advantages and draw-backs. It has enabled particular collectors to develop strong. important and yet often highly idiosyncratic groupings of works, which are not always in full accord with a wider photograpbic consensus.
This preamble, though dealing only superficially with com-plex issues. is particularly important when evaluating collections of women's work. and the presence (or lack thereof) of photo-
242 0301!-729IIj94 SIO.OO 10 1994 Taylor III Francis LId.
graphy by women in major national collections in England. This study. brief as it is, and with its inevitable exclusions. examines four major collecting institutions in England. It is divided into two parts-nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and alphabetically within - and draws on information supplied by the four institutions to researcher Anna Fox and to the author.
Historically. women's photography has been margina1ized despite the many women practitioners who have operated since the invention of the medium. Much of the photography made by women in the early days has disappeared. uncatalogued and uncollected. its importance disregarded. Some women were less confident about the value of their work than men because they were less likely to attract the patronage of powerful dealers. to be invited to hold major one-person shows. or to take part in prestigious group exhibitions. Photo-journalists were less likely to be commissioned by mainstream editors. Commercially, photo-graphs by women have been less prestigious to collect, and the p~icular bonding that has existed between male curator and male photographer is foregone. Sometimes women sell their work for less than it is worth on the art market because recognition is worth more than a proper financial reward for their- efforts.
The holdings of nineteenth-century women photographers in four major English collections-the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Photographic Society, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television - illustrates the challenge presented to a researcher attempting to construct an accurate history of women's photo-graphy of this period. The major nineteenth-century holdings of women's photography within these four collections are:
Victoria and Albert Museum Julia Margaret Cameron: 300 prints, acquired by Sir Henry
Cole Lady Clementina Hawarden: 776 prints. acquired by Charles
Gibbs Smith in 1939
Ntltiontll Portrtlit Gallery, London Sarah Angelina Adand [1849-1930]: 3 prints Ethel Arnold [1866-1920): 1 print Ethel Barker [1899-1903): 1 print Alice Boughton [1865-1943]: 6 prints Anna Bramston [1890s): 1 print Madame Brunner [1860s]: 1 print Mr & Mrs Bustin [1860s): 1 print Julia Margaret Cameron [1815-1879): 53 prints Lady Roscoe [1880s): 1 print
Royal Photographic Society, Bath Julia Margaret Cameron: 769 prints Mary E. Lynn: 700 prints Mrs Dillwyn [1850s]: 3 prints Lady Augusta Mostyn [1850s]: 2 prints Lady Augusta Nevill [1850s): 2 prints Lady Caroline Nevill [t850s): 3 prints Jane Reid [1890s): t print
Nalional Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford Julia Margaret Cameron Lady Hawarden
HIsTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY. VOLUME 18. NUMBtiIl 3~ AUTUMN 1994
English Collections of Women Photographers in National Museums
The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television holdings are slightly more obscure. As an outstation of the Science Museum in London, collection policy is shared. From our researches, . we established only the above twO holdings of nineteenth-century women's photography. Much work is cur-rently being !1Ddertaken by the museum to widen public know-ledge of its eXtensive collection.
The above lists, of course, exclude a great number of photo-graphs contained in Victorian albums and the archive material. Not all the work in these national collections have been precisely catalogued.
From 1900 onwards, the position of women photographers within national collections improves. Terence Pepper of the National Portrait Gallery, active since the early 1970s, has done women's photography and photographic history a great service by his intelligent collecting and re-assessment, through exhibitons and publications of women's photography made during the first thirty years of the twentieth century. Pepper has established through preliminary research th