Theatrical portraits

Early 20th century full length portrait of Henry A Lytton in the character of Dick Deadeye from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Early 20th century full length portrait of Henry A Lytton in the character of Dick Deadeye from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Have you visited City of Westminster Archives on Flickr recently?
The theatre enthusiasts among you may already be familiar with the ever expanding City of Westminster Archives Theatre Collection which, among other things, includes playbills, programmes and other ephemera relating to the history of the West End Stage. Over recent years we have been fortunate to work with a dedicated team of volunteers who have spent many hours and days working on the collection in order to make the items accessible to the public. Our most recent project, about which we are very excited, has involved the cataloguing of a collection of previously unseen photographic theatre portraits from the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth century.

To see a sample of this stunning collection, visit our Flickr page (there’s a direct link from the Anywhere.me start page on all Westminster Libraries computers too). Here you will find stylish portraits, some of them personally autographed, of a number of well known actors and actresses of their day. These are mainly from the Edwardian era, and include intimate images of West End stage sets and plays in progress. Other highlights include photographs of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas including HMS Pinafore, The Mikado and The Gondoliers.

Scene from 1908 of The Lyon’s Mail, a play by Charles Reade. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Scene from 1908 of The Lyon’s Mail, a play by Charles Reade. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

My personal favourites, however, are the hand-coloured portraits which have been lovingly worked on by hand with stunning results.

Early 20th century hand-coloured, head and shoulders portrait of actress Lily Brayton. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Early 20th century hand-coloured, head and shoulders portrait of actress Lily Brayton. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The manual colouring of black and white as well as sepia photographs was popular in the late nineteenth / early twentieth century as colour photography technology had not yet become widely available. The technique was used as both a way of heightening realism and for artistic purposes. A range of materials was used including watercolours, oils, crayons and pastels. These were applied to the surface of the photographic image using brushes, fingers, cotton swabs or airbrushes.

To familiarise, or indeed re-aquaint yourself with other aspects of the Theatre Collection please take a look at our web pages or come in and visit.

[Georgina]

One response to “Theatrical portraits

  1. My blog including some pictures……..

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