Monday, 5 April 2010

Portrait of a portraitist and local celebrity: Edward Foster (1762-1865) - Part 1

A couple of years ago Virginia Silvester sent me these intriguing scans of the front and reverse of a carte de visite portrait (1) by John Burton & Sons (2) in her collection of old family photographs, an almost identical view to one that I had scanned at the Derby Local Studies Library (3) a few months earlier.

Image © & courtesy of Virginia Silvester

By the time John Burton and his sons opened their third branch studio on the top floor above the bookshop of Messrs. Clulow & Sons in Victoria Street, Derby on 2 February 1863 (4, 5), they had half a decade of experience in the photographic business. They demonstrated not merely a proficiency in portraiture, but also some considerable astuteness in the marketing of their services. Faced with stiff competition from well established practitioners such as Thomas Roberts, James Brennen, George Bristow, E.N. Charles, William Pearson and Richard Keene, a pliable reporter from The Derby Mercury was inivited to the gallery. He duly supplemented the first of a regular series of Burton & Sons advertisements in that newspaper with a most favourable report (6):
"... we have since had an opportunity of inspecting a very large number of Mr. Burton's specimens. In one very large and handsome group of Volunteer officers these qualities are as palpable as in the exquisitely beautiful cartes-de-visite; and in the portraits of Lord and Lady Stamford delicate colouring is also apparent. Mr. Burton has succeeded in producing an admirably correct group of portraits of Ensign Turner, Colour-Sergeant Pratt, and Corporal Clulow, of the Derby Volunteers, in uniform. A visit to Mr. Burton' s Gallery, at Messrs. Clulow's, will afford very agreeable entertainment to every man of taste.
Image © & courtesy of Michael Jones

This type of advertorial, hand in hand with the celebrity endorsement, was evidently an accepted practice even a century and a half ago. Hand coloured photographs of volunteer soldiers in magnificent uniforms - such as that shown above, from the Derby studio of John Roberts (7) - as well as genteel portraits of members of the higher echelons of Derby society, provided valuable draw cards for clients from among the "ordinary" folk of Derby.

Derby Local Studies Library

The reporter in question may even have been the Henry Latimer Kemp (1832-1869), newspaper writer at The Derby Mercury, whose vignetted Burton studio portrait - shown above - has survived in the Derby Local Studies Library collection (8). The Burtons continued to entice a wide range of clientele into the studio, and were even prepared to venture further afield to capture the more important clients (9):
The pictures obtained by this firm ... are remarkable for their sharpness of detail and brilliancy of light and shade. In the cartes de visite of several county families, these excellences are strikingly prominent, particularly in those of the Earl of Harrington, and of other members of the family recently taken by the Messrs. Burton, at Elvaston Castle. The admiration of the lover of art will be excited by an inspection of some of their fine studies of dramatic characters now in the course of completion. Mr. John Coleman as Hamlet, and Miss Caroline Carson as the Queen, considered as examples of pure photography, may fairly claim to be numbered among the gems of this fascinating art.
Image © & courtesy of Virginia Silvester

An advertisement in early May boldly proclaimed the ultimate conquests, asserting Her Majesty the Queen, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, and H.R.H. the Princess of Wales as recent studio patrons on successive days (10), although newspaper accounts of royal movements during this period (29 April to 1 May) by this author render such claims highly unlikely (11). Following a practice common to many practitioners around the country, however, they soon took the liberty of embellishing the reverse of their card mounts with the royal coat of arms and the names of their noble clients (as shown above). By December that year their newspaper advertisements included "the nobility and gentry of the Midland counties" among their valued customers, in additon to "extraordinary advantages for photographing children." (12)

Image © & courtesy of Historical Directories from the University of Leicester

In the 1864 edition of Wright's Midland Directory, probably compiled in late 1863, and by which time a fourth Burton branch had been opened in Burton-upon-Trent, the firm took out a whole page advertisement offering a wide range of services, including "animals with the instantaneous process," and with a substantial list of prestigious patrons (13).

Image © & collection of Brett Payne

On 5 April 1864 they announced their appointment as sole photographers to the Shakspere [sic] Tercentary Festival (14), and that they would be working from "a commodious gallery adjoining the pavilion" in Stratford-upon-Avon from Monday 18 April. This occasion presented further business opportunities to the burgeoning Burton & Sons portfolio: in addition to the usual "carte de visite and other portrait" services, they offered "a series of Shakespearean views, comprising all objects of interest in Stratford and the neighbourhood," each photograph bearing "a facsimile of the Committee's seal." (15) During the event, they made the most of the presence of a number of "musical celebrities who created and sustained the interest of the last great Triennial Festival at Birmingham," inducing them into his makeshift studio for individual sittings. The separate negatives were then innovatively combined in a single commemmorative print, inferring ""that these talented personages met by concerted arrangement in a spacious drawing room, and that while engaged in social converse, the photographer successfully plied his vocation," and subsequently "exhibit[ed] in the artist's window, at Messrs. Clulow's, Victoria street." (16)

Such an environment was eminently suitable for an invitation to a portrait sitting to be sent to Derby's man of the moment. A contemporary inscription handwritten in ink on the reverse of the card mount not only identifies the subject of Virginia's portrait, but also helpfully provides some clues to the circumstances surrounding the sitting:
Presented to E Hayman
by the original.
Ed. Foster Esq
Decr. 5 1864. Taken on his 102 Birth-
day Nov 8th 1864 -
Indeed the copy held by the Derby Local Studies Library is similarly, but somewhat less informatively, inscribed, "Mr Foster Centenarian." Virginia explains:
"E Hayman was almost certainly my great-grandfather Edward Hayman, originally from Devon and en route to London via Liverpool and Lichfield. As far as I know, Ed Foster was not related, and was probably only a casual acquaintance."
From an account of an 1861 portrait of Foster and his daughter by fellow Derbeian John Haslem (17), we know that Foster was no stranger to photographic studios, and may well have used such portraits to enhance his celebrity status, as a means of publicising his commercial activities.

Edward Foster was an extraordinarily energetic man, in spite of his advanced years, who had been active in a wide variety of fields throughout his long life. After turning a hundred and attending a public dinner held at Derby in his honour, he set off on several lengthy tours to towns as far afield as Birmingham (18), Gloucester (19) and Huddersfield (20). From the tone of the newspaper reports, these towns had previously played significant roles in his younger years, although he was originally a Derby man and it was to Derby that he returned in late 1863. He was reported to be:
In full possession of all his faculties, with eyesight that does not yet need the aid of spectacles, intelligent and communicative, Mr. Foster is a marvel for his age. The charts of which he is the author ... have been under the public eye for many years, and have been adopted by most of the principal colleges and schools in the country ... the chart of the histories of Rome, France, and Britain has reached its 42nd edition, while altogether upwards of 120,000 copies of the charts have been circulated ... The charts are admirably adapted to be given at schools, &c., as prizes, and have been extensively used for that purpose.
While apparently healthy, Edward Foster, his much younger wife and their teenage daughter were in a poor financial state, and an application was made by the Mayor of Derby Thomas Roe for him to receive some sort of pension, in light of his straitened circumstances. The Derby Mercury of 2 December 1863 reported that a letter had been received from the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston instructing payment of a donation of 60 pounds to Foster (21). A further article on 1 Feb 1865 (22) reported that:
For some time past Mr. Foster has been, from illness and consequent debility, unable to travel about the country in search of purchasers of his valuable charts, from the products of which the existence of himself, his wife, and daughter depend ... in order to minister to his temporary necessities, subscriptions should be obtained from all those who are benevolently inclined.
He died a few weeks later, at his home in Parker Street, Derby, on Sunday 12 March leaving "a widow and daughter in straitened circumstances." (23) He was buried in the New Cemetery on Nottingham Road on Thursday 16 March 1865 (24).

Image courtesy of the Internet Archive

While there is plenty of verifiable information detailing Edward Foster's latter years, the material concerning his first half century appears to be mostly hearsay. At least I should perhaps clarify that by stating that I have been unable to substantiate many of the claims that have been made. Peter Seddon's recent article in Derbyshire Life entitled, "Edward Foster: A Master in Profile" provides an excellent overview of the remarkable life of "The Derby Centenarian." (25) However, much of the material has apparently been sourced from a book about Derby personalities that was published in 1866, shortly after the death of Edward Foster (26). Sadly, no sources are provided in either article. The engraving shown above (27) also illustrates this book, and appears to have been taken from the 1863 Burton portrait.

The important aspect, at least from the point of view of this article, and one about which there is little doubt, is that, after 25 years of service with the 20th Regiment of Foot, he discovered an artistic propensity and became a painter of miniature portraits and silhouettes. He subsequently forged this into a career which was to serve him well for several decades, at least until he was well into his seventies.

I have written previously about silhouette portraiture, and its relationship with early portrait photography, in an article about William Seville (28). In Part 2 of this series I will discuss Foster's early life in the miltary and as a silhouettist in further detail, and explore how he dealt with the rapid incursion of photographic portraiture into the silhouette business in a very different manner to the way that Seville did.

References

(1) Carte de visite portrait of Edward Foster, dated 8 November 1864, by John Burton & Sons of Leicester, Derby, Birmingham, Nottingham & Burton-upon-Trent, Collection of Virginia Silvester, Reproduced by permission.

(2) Profile & Portfolio of John Burton & Sons, Derbyshire Photographers & Photographic Studios, web page by Brett Payne

(3) Carte de visite portrait of Edward Foster, undated, by John Burton & Sons of Leicester, Derby, Birmingham & Burton-upon-Trent, Collection of Derby Local Studies Library, Reproduced by permission.

(4) Advertisement, The Derby Mercury, 28 January 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning


(5) Advertisement, The Derby Mercury, 18 February 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning


(6) The Photographic Art, The Derby Mercury, 18 February 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(7) Carte de visite portrait of unidentified militia soldier, undated but possibly taken c.1865-1868, by John Roberts of 26 Osmaston Street, Derby, Collection of Michael Jones, Reproduced by permission.

(8) Carte de visite portrait of H.L. Kemp, undated but probably taken c.1863-1864, by John Burton & Sons of Leicester, Derby, Birmingham & Burton-upon-Trent, Collection of Derby Local Studies Library, Reproduced by permission.

(9) Photography, The Derby Mercury, 11 March 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(10) Advertisement, The Derby Mercury, 6 May 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(11) The Court, Daily News, 30 April, 1 May & 4 May 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(12) Advertisement, The Derby Mercury, 30 Dec 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(13) Anon (1864) Wright's Midland Directory, Leicester & Loughborough, with Burton-on-Trent, C.N. Wright, Victoria Street, from Historical Directories by the University of Leicester

(14) Carte de visite portrait, undated but probably taken c.1866-1868, by John Burton & Sons of Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Melton Mowbray & Burton-upon-Trent, Collection of Brett Payne

(15) Advertisment, The Birmingham Daily Post, 5 April 1864, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(16) Advertisement, The Derby Mercury, 22 Jun 1864, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(17) Haslem, John (1882) Silhouettes, or Black Profile Portraits, Notes and Queries, Oxford Journals, Volume s6-VI, Number 133, p. 57-58. Available at Google Books [Accessed 6 Apr 2010]

(18) A Veteran, The Derby Mercury, 7 May 1862, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(19) The Derby Centenarian, The Derby Mercury, 28 Oct 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(20) Untitled, The Derby Mercury, 9 Dec 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(21) Mr Edward Foster, the Centenarian, The Derby Mercury, 2 Dec 1863, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(22) Mr Foster, the Centenarian, The Derby Mercury, 1 Feb 1865, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(23) Deaths, The Derby Mercury, 15 Mar 1865, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(24) Untitled, The Derby Mercury, 22 Mar 1865, 19th Century British Library Newspapers from Gale CENGAGE Learning

(25) Seddon, Peter (2009) Edward Foster: A Master in Profile, (Derbyshire's Artistic Heritage), Derbyshire Life, July 2009, p.170-173.

(26) Robinson, Joseph Barlow (1866) Derbyshire Gatherings: A fund of delight for the antiquary, the historian, the topographer, the biographer, and the general reader ..., London: J.R. Smith, 106p, (Mr. Edward Foster, The Derby Centenarian, p. 81-84), Available online at the Internet Archive [Accessed 5 April 2010].

(27) Engraving of Mr. Edward Foster, Centenarian by uknown artist, in Robinson (1866).

(28) Payne, Brett (2009) William Seville (1797-1866), silhouette and photographic artist, Photo-Sleuth, 17 Sep 2009.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks! I feel like I have my own private tutor in the history of photographers and photography. A treat to the mind and senses.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Joan, for the kind comments, although I feel I should point out that I'm learning as much as anyone during the course of researching the articles.

    Regards and best wishes, Brett

    ReplyDelete
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