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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Robert Howlett

Names:
Other: Robert W. Howlett 
Joint: Cundall & Howlett 
Dates:  1830 - 1858, 2 December
Born:  Great Britain
Active:  Great Britain
 
  
Best known for his portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He took a series of the engineering feats of Brunel including the construction of the steamship Leviathan (Great Eastern).

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Robert Howlett
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

 
  
Robert Howlett produced portraits of Crimean War heroes, genre scenes and landscapes. His major work however, was to document the construction of the massive steamship the Great Eastern. His images were translated into engravings for The Illustrated Times. They reflected and stimulated the widespread interest in this feat of engineering. Howlett also produced the well known portrait of the Great Eastern’s creator and engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, standing in front of the ship's chains. This is perhaps one of the first examples of environmental portraiture. 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
  
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.
 
  

Approved biography for Robert Howlett
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

 
  
Born in London, Howlett came of age just as photography was beginning to, and it would be his only career. Little is known of how he began, but Howlett traced his first photographic work back to 1852. Within three years he was in partnership with joseph cundall and philip henry delamotte at the Photographic Institution on New Bond Street. Howlett contributed three calotypes to the 1856 exhibition of the Manchester Photographic Society and became involved with the Photographic Society in London, rapidly developing a reputation as a solid experimentalist. As T. Frederick Hardwich observed, “Rarely did I leave him without feeling that I had carried away something which I could set down in my note-book as a genuine experimental fact.” Howlett was a versatile photographer, doing portraits, landscapes, and even the character studies that William Powell Frith would use as a basis for his celebrated painting The Derby Day. Among his contemporaries, Howlett was most admired for his large reproductions of artworks, but today he is best remembered for his iconic portrait of the great British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Howlett exhibited prolifically, nearly always offering his work for sale, but in 1858, less than three weeks after an enthusiastic report to the Photographic Society, he succumbed to typhus. Howlett’s shocked colleagues blamed his premature death on the fact that, trying to do the work of three men, he had caught a severe cold while working in his new and damp darkroom. 
  
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
  
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.
 
  

HomeContents > Further research

 
  
Thumbnail  
  
General reading 
  
Taylor, Roger; with Larry J. Schaaf, 2007, Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840–1860, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Δ
  
 
  
Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
  
1858, 15 December, ‘Robert W. Howlett‘, Photographic Notes, vol. 3, p. 290 [Obituary] [Δ
  
Hardwich, T. Frederick, 1858, 21 December, ‘Remarks on the Death of Mr. Howlett‘, JPS, vol. 5, pp. 111-12 [Δ
  
Howlett, Robert W., 1856, On the Various Methods of Printing Photographic Pictures upon Paper, with Suggestions for Their Preservation, (London: Sampson Low) [Δ
  
 
  
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - alan@luminous-lint.com
 
Portraits 
  
If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
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Visual indexes

ThumbnailRobert Howlett: Crimean heroes
ThumbnailRobert Howlett: Isambard Kingdom Brunel
ThumbnailRobert Howlett: The Great Eastern
ThumbnailRobert Howlett: Valley of the Mole, Surrey
 
All photographs by this photographer 
  
 

Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

 
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
 

Printed biographies

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

 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Robert Howlett.] 
  
 

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.251 
  
• Koetzle, Hans-Michael 2002 Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures - Volume 1 (Koln: Taschen) [This book discusses one photograph "Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1857)" by Robert Howlett in considerable detail. An excellent source for a detailed analysis.] 
  
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.70 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Robert Howlett are included in this classic history.] 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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