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Family Album

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” Meanwhile Rejlander, the Swedish photographer has been making photogrphs of some of us. Lionel’s very fine. A’s profile good. He is still at his work when the gentlemen return from the forest….’, records Emily in her diary for 1st May 1863.

As well as in the studio, the Tennysons were also photographed in their home on the Isle of Wight. Although Alfred was a reluctant sitter, he and Emily were keen to record images of their young sons before they left for school and grew into young men.

Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813 - 1875) visited in May 1863. It seems he was the only photographer to capture all four family members together in his photographs taken in the garden of their home at Farringford. Backlit by sunlight,the informal group presents an idyllic image of a family strolling in the garden of their home. The boys wear loose tunics with lace collars. One of the boys carries a large black hat. Perhaps this was his father’s hat. Although posed for the camera, the faces are slightly blurred,suggesting the sitters moved during the photography. The image captures a moment of action in a way that was difficult to achieve in studio portraits. Emily’s dress appears to move with the breeze.

Rejlander was known for his experimental photography. He gave many of his photographs narratives and titles. Spending time at Farringford in 1863, he may have influenced the later work of Julia Margaret Cameron, who lived close by on the Isle of Wight. However, little is known about the life of Rejlander, a portrait painter and photographer who arrived in England from Sweden in 1839. In the 1840 census, he is recorded as an artist lodging in Minster Yard, Lincoln. He later moved on to Birmingham and then London.

Perhaps due to his eccentricity, he has been described as one of the best photographers of children. Despite often being out of focus, his portraits achieved expressive and relaxed poses from his subjects. He was the funny man with the beard who entertained children and brought out character in the photographs. Emily records her sons being amused by his Norse tales.

The Tennysons were keen to have accurate images of their sons, to keep as mementoes after they had left for school. Tennyson wrote in December 1864, that Emily had sent their photos ahead, asking if they could go in long hair. She was told they could not. Emily was reluctant for the boys to have their hair cut in winter for fear they might catch a cold. The artist George Frederick Watts was also painting a portrait of the boys at this time and voiced his disapproval at them getting their hair cut in middle of portrait sittings.

Their start at school was delayed until Easter 1865. A later photograph presents a different image of the two boys, posed in a photographer’s studio with their short hair cuts. There have changed out of their loose tunics and into more convential, unfamiliar jackets and trousers. A painted view of a church completes the image.

As was common in Victorian families, the hair was kept as a momento. When Lionel died in 1886, age just 33, the hair and photographs were important keepsakes of the young man. A leather frame at the TRC contains two photographs of Lionel, one an early image by Mayall c. 1861 and the other of as a young man, together with two locks of hair.

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Last updated: 11 December 2014

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