Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A continental school group?

I like old photos of school groups, and have accumulated a few in my small collection, in addition to those which include members of my own family. One of the former group is not in wonderful condition and not particularly remarkable, but intrigues me as I purchased it on eBay from a UK seller, but I believe it may not have originated there.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

The photograph (151 x 103.5 mm) is mounted on a cabinet card measuring 164.5 x 108.5 mm. There is unfortunately no photographer's imprint, either on the front or the reverse, although the design on the reverse is not one that I have come across before on English card mounts.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

The dresses worn by the two women teachers (from her apparent age, the one on the right is probably a pupil teacher) are not very clear, but they appear to be simple, everyday versions of fashions common in the 1880s.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne Image © & collection of Brett Payne

In addition, the tiles on the roof and the shape of the door appear, at least to me, to be more akin to styles found on the continent.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

I wonder if any other readers can come up with some ideas or clues as to where this school was? Please email me if you have any information which you think might help, or similar photographs.

P.S. Nigel Aspdin has come across fancy tile work like this in Derby, and sent me a recent photograph of the estate school at Kedleston Hall which shows a very similar style.

Image © & courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

He also thinks the doors could be those of a stable, and suggests that perhaps it was an estate school.

I've had an opportunity to examine the school photograph in some more detail. There are 17 boys and 17 girls, apparently ranging in age from about 5 (the youngest looking girl at the extreme left of the front row) to about 11 (such as the girl immediately to the left of the student teacher, and the tallest boys standing in the back row.) Most of the girls have white pinafores, except one at the right who has perhaps forgotten it is photo day - she has a striped pinny. Immediately behind her, a naughty boy has moved resulting in his features being blurred. To his left, at the end of the row, another boy is getting bored and is trying, unsuccessfully, to stifle a yawn. A boy in the middle row, second from the left hand end, has had enough, and is making some smart-aleck comment to the friend on his right, who is trying hard not to laugh.

The pupil teacher on the right looks very young, perhaps only 16 or 17, and probably hasn't been in the job very long - she appears rather nervous. The older woman teacher's eyes appear half-closed. She may have been distracted by the antics of her naughtier charges, and blinked. However, it may also be that the light caught her blue eyes at just the wrong angle. The wet collodion proess used at that time had a higher sensitivity to blue light, and people with blue eyes often appear to have glazed eyes or vacant stares, a curiosity akin to the red-eye caused by the flash in modern photography.

The fact that it has no photographer's imprint may or may not be relevant. Many Victorian school photos had no photographer's name. They were often taken by itinerant artists, who may have been a little less skilled. Most were taken outside, where there was good light, and lengthy exposure times would not be required. I find that they are therefore often more spontaneous in comparison to formal studio portraits, and much more character can be seen in the subjects.

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