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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Henry Peach Robinson

Names:
Other: H.P. Robinson 
Other: Henry P. Robinson 
Joint: Robinson & Cherrill 
Dates:  1830, 9 July - 1901, 21 February
Born:  Great Britain, England, Ludlow
Died:  Great Britain, England, Tunbridge Wells
Active:  England
 
  
The godfather of Pictorialism and extremely influential in nineteenth century photography circles, Robinson shaped public opinion, both through the photographs he exhibited and the books he wrote. He learned combination printing from Oscar Gustave Rejlander, but easily surpassed the teacher, producing definitive photographs printed from as many as nine negatives. He led a secession group of photographers away from the Royal Photographic Society and was a founder member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1892.
 
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]
Andrew Pringle, Sun Artists, (Number 2):
 
"Mr. Robinson's pictures never fail to find favour with the jurors at photographic exhibitions, and he now stands the most be-medalled photographer in the world. He was not the first to introduce the special line of photography with which his name is now so intimately connected - 'Composite' photography, - but he was quick to perceive its possibilities...Many of Mr Robinsons most important works...were...produced not from one single negative, but...from two or more negatives printed on one sheet of paper...
 
It will be interesting and, we hope, instructive to many, to endeavour to trace his teaching and his intentions in his works.
 
The very first criticism we make on his works is that in every case we find an evident intention - some story is told, some conception worked out, though the whole of the story or conception is not given, and we are left to imagine some things and to connect others. At the first blush we should expect the two women in 'Carolling' to be joyous and frivolous, but we find one is not so gay as her companion; she looks back as well as forward, she has doubts as well as hopes, and her comparative gravity enhances the gaiety of the other, and gives intensity and intention to the episode."
On 23rd September 2015 a blue plaque to "Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) Pioneer Photographer" was unveiled at 60 The Parade, Leamington Spa, in his honour.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Henry Peach Robinson
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

 
  
H. P. Robinson was Englandís first vocal proponent of "high art" photography during the late Victorian era. When not making commercial portraits, he was crafting anecdotal, narrative photographs, based on sentimental paintings and created from multiple negatives. He wrote many books and articles on the technique and aesthetics of photography, including his 1869 title Pictorial Effect in Photography. Most of his composite pictures precede pictorialism, making him more like the grandfather of the movement.
 
Henry Peach Robinson was born on July 9, 1830, at Linney, Ludlow, Shropshire. He finished his schooling at thirteen and in 1844 was apprenticed to a printer/bookseller in Ludlow for five years. He studied art, had some of his drawings reproduced in the Illustrated London News, and in 1852 saw one of his paintings accepted into the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy. During this time, he worked for a number of booksellers and publishers in London and elsewhere.
 
Robinson learned the daguerreotype process in 1850 from a photographer who had taken his portrait. A few years later, he began making calotypes and became increasingly enthusiastic about photography. In 1856, after studying the medium further for two years, he established a portrait studio in Leamington with a cousin of his. The next year, he was elected a member of the Photographic Society of London.
 
In 1858, Robinson produced his first major composite photograph, Fading Away, showing a dying girl surrounded by mourning figures. This image, now his signature piece, was exhibited at the Crystal Palace that year, received much attention, and increased his portrait business. Shortly thereafter, he started issuing one highly staged and moralistic composite photograph a year, usually picturing idyllic peasant life.
 
Robinson moved his portrait studio to larger premises in 1862, to accommodate his increased commercial and artistic work, but a few years later fell ill and closed it. He then moved to London in 1865 and began editorial work for the Photographic News. He wrote extensively for this periodical, plus others such as Practical Photographer and the British Journal of Photography.
 
In 1868, with his health improved, Robinson set up a new studio in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, with Nelson King Cherrill, who stayed with him for about seven years and helped produce exhibition pictures that were signed by both photographers. After being published in installments in Photographic News, Robinsonís first and most important book was issued in 1869. Pictorial Effect in Photography: Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers was so popular that it was translated into French and German and went into many editions and reprints. During the 1880s he wrote additional titles.
 
Due to another illness, H. P. Robinson summoned his son, Ralph Winwood Robinson, to help run his business in 1886 and two years later retired. However, he continued writing on photography, judging exhibitions, and showing his work. Solo exhibitions of his photographs were seen in the United States in 1890 in Boston and Philadelphia and the next year in Rochester.
 
He was active in organizations, such as the Tunbridge Wells Amateur Photographic Association. In 1892, Robinson helped found the important Linked Ring Brotherhood, by seceding with others from the conservative Photographic Society of Great Britain, in order to pursue artistic work. Until about 1900, Robinson was deeply involved in organizing the Linked Ringís annual salon, acting as a judge and installing the shows. In 1900, he was unanimously elected as an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (Hon. FRPS).
 
Henry Peach Robinson suffered a paralytic seizure and some months later died, on February 21, 1901. He is buried in Tunbridge Wells. 
  
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Further research

 
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Henry Peach Robinson
Henry P. Robinson 
1888 (publication)
 
  
Family history 
  
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Visual indexes

 
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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.]Show on this siteGo to website
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.50 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.465 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.223-224 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.258 
  
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.110 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Henry Peach Robinson are included in this classic history.] 
  
 

Quotations

The wit and wisdom.

 
"Healthy human eyes never saw any part of a scene out of focus."
 
  
 
  
 
  
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