Oscar Rejlander Photographs

Rejlander, Oscar Gustav

Swedish, active England (1813-1875)

63 photographs, 1 facsimile, 1 attributed

ca. 1853-1870

Oscar Gustav Rejlander was born in Sweden in 1813. He studied painting in Rome, and then moved to England, where he married. In 1846, he settled with his wife Mary in the small town of Wolverhampton, where he worked as a portrait painter. In 1851, he visited the Great Exhibition, and became interested in photography. Around 1853, he began to photograph genre scenes, moral allegories, and portraits, often working with children. He made combination prints, and became famous for the large tableau "The Two Ways of Life" (1857). Performance and the study of physiognomy were part of Rejlander's investigation of photography and painting. In 1872, he contributed photographic illustrations for Charles Dawrin's On The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (GEH Library). In 1862, he moved to London, opening his studio on Malden Road, and, in 1868, in Albert Mansions (addresses inscribed in pencil on the mount of some photographs in the Eastman House collection). He died on January 18, 1875, leaving his wife in poverty.

Bibliographic Reference:

Jones, Edgar Yoxall. O.G. Rejlander, Father of Photography, 1813-1875. 1973.

Rejlander's work at the George Eastman House presents a variety of images, from his early activities to the late years. One genre scene, "I Pays" in the Johnston album, seems to correspond to his earliest work, around 1853. Among his portraits, some have been identified as parts of tableaux and combination prints with biblical themes (a woman praying, a bust of a man with a beard, the head of St. John the Baptist). The portraits of children include allegories of painting and poverty, and also what appears to be Rejlander's commercial work (in particular, three portraits of young women and girls in carte-de-visite format). The portraits of young women and girls are either allegorical, or Victorian in style (in particular, one of a woman holding a book of poems by Tennyson). Rejlander appears in two staged portraits (an actor in fur-lined coat, and a man with a rifle, as well as the central figure in "Two Ways of Life"). A few prints show staged scenes of a couple in embrace, three figures sharing a secret, a bachelor's dream, a young woman helping an old blind woman, and two girls singing. One print reveals an early attempt at spiritistical photography, obtained from a double exposure of a staged scene of a carpenter with his family. The single exposure, entitled "The Carpenter's Dream," is also in the collection. Most photographs came from the collection of A.E. Marshall.

M. Antonella Pelizzari, 2/97