Intro:

In 1850, Frenchman Louis-Desiré Blanquart-Evrard (1802-1872) invented the albumen print. This process involved immersing a sheet of paper in an egg and salt wash, brushing the paper with silver nitrate for light sensitivity, and exposing the coated paper to sunlight for minutes or even hours. The paper was then toned to produce a developed image with a warm brown cast and yellow and cream highlights. The warm brownish hue, a result of the egg emulsion, is a distinguishing earmark of an albumen print. The British journal Quarterly Review in October 1866 estimated that six million eggs were used annually in England to supply the albumen for coating paper.

Until 1890, albumen was the most prevalent type of print because it yielded a clearer image than the calotype that preceded it in general use. The albumen provided sharp definition, a glossy surface, and strong contrasts, making it an ideal photographic process for portraiture. The clarity of the image also incited photographers to capture detailed images of landscapes, architectural buildings, and foreign lands. The Henry is fortunate to hold excellent albumen prints from each of these genres. Examples in the Henry’s collection include portraits by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the travel photography of Samuel Bourne, and Carleton E. Watkins’s landscape prints.

Drawbacks to the albumen process included the laborious and time-consuming steps required to produce the egg emulsion. The procedure involved beating and fermenting the egg white, layering egg coatings in order to equalize the surface of the paper, and allowing the paper to dry and cure for three to six months. Such rigorous preparations yielded an extraordinarily consistent paper that was an ideal medium for creating editions of identical prints.  With the introduction of the albumen process, photography acquired an industrial model and entered into the culture of mass reproduction. The albumen print process was a dominant one until replaced by the gelatin silver process, which offered superior light sensitivity and greater ease of preparation.

Misa Jeffereis

(Samuel Bourne: Avenue of the Poplars at Srinagar (Srinagar, India))

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Samuel Bourne (England, 1834–1912)

Avenue of the Poplars at Srinagar (Srinagar, India). 1869

Albumen print

9 1/2 x 11 3/4 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.28

British photographer Samuel Bourne was interested in visiting foreign places and capturing picturesque images of the unfamiliar. In 1863 Bourne traveled to British-controlled India.  In this albumen print, his subject is a neat phalanx of trees retreating in orderly fashion toward a vanishing point.  A Victorian appreciation of orderly spatial relationships is manifested in Bourne’s rational approach to composition. 

(Édouard‑Denis Baldus: Panthéon [from Vues de Paris en Photographie, no. 32])

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Édouard‑Denis Baldus (France, b. Prussia, 1813–1889)

Panthéon [from Vues de Paris en Photographie, no. 32]. 1858

Albumen print

10 5/16 x 7 7/8 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 83.22

This albumen print pictures the Pantheon in Paris, a monument that prolific French photographer Édouard‑Denis Baldus returned to photograph repeatedly over the course of his career. Baldus cultivated a photographic style that allowed nothing to detract from the essence of his architectural subjects.  In this print, he frames the building so that nothing draws the viewer’s attention from the weighty presence of its facade.

(Charles Marville: Paris 13e Arrondissement (13th District of Paris))

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Charles Marville (France, 1816–1879)

Paris 13e Arrondissement (13th District of Paris). c. 1865

Albumen print

9 1/2 x 13 11/16 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.105

Beginning in 1852, and continuing for almost 20 years, French photographer Charles Marville recorded the cobbled, medieval Parisian neighborhoods that were being destroyed by massive urban renewal projects under Napoleon III. His balanced city compositions are often devoid of people and reveal his eye for detail. This image displays a poignant regard for the character and texture of a vanishing cityscape, showing us how documentary images can be invested with a poetic dimension.

(Constant Alexandre Famin: Trees in the Forest of Fountainebleau)

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Constant Alexandre Famin (France, 1827–1888)

Trees in the Forest of Fountainebleau. c. 1865

Albumen print

7 1/2 x 10 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.233

French photographer Constant Alexandre Famin’s albumen prints first appeared in 1863. His images of peasant folk, woodlands, children, and animals are widely considered to be particularly sensitive and delicate examples of landscape photography of the time.  Famin was one of the second generation of photographers attracted to Fountainebleau and its environs. By the time Famin arrived, the forest, popularized through tourism and art, was at risk for overdevelopment.

(Carleton E. Watkins: Vernal Falls, 350 ft. from Lady Franklin Rock)

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Carleton E. Watkins (U.S., 1829–1916)

Vernal Falls, 350 ft. from Lady Franklin Rock. c. 1860s, printed after 1875

Albumen print

7 9/16 x 4 7/8 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 91.37

In the 1860s, Carleton E. Watkins made his living by selling landscape photographs in his Yo-Semite Gallery in San Francisco. For over twenty years the artist used Yosemite Valley as a laboratory in which he could experiment with photographic styles and techniques.  His earlier albumen prints awed the public with views of dizzying heights and bird’s-eye perspectives. By the 1880s Watkins had distinguished himself from his contemporaries by consciously capturing abstract forms in the landscape. In this sense, Watkins’s albumen prints foreshadowed the modernist aesthetic that would emerge in photography in the next century. 

(George Fiske: Yosemite Valley: The Three Brothers)

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George Fiske (U.S., 1835–1918)

Yosemite Valley: The Three Brothers. c. 1885

Albumen print

10 x 13 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Monsen Study Collection of Photography, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen, 79.73

George Fiske was an assistant to Carleton E. Watkins and also caravanned with Eadweard Muybridge through Yosemite Valley.  Fiske resided in Yosemite for nearly forty years, always seeking to capture the transitory ever-changing beauty of the place and becoming one of a handful of people to settle there permanently.  Weathering the valley’s rugged conditions year-round, he traveled its trails in a carriage drawn by his horse Sailor Boy, or on one of his donkeys, Honest John and Bake. He and his wife also took up cross-country skiing to traverse the valley in winter. In the snow season the dedicated photographer and his mules hauled an 11 x 14 inch plate camera, tripod, and supply of dry plates on a sled.

(Julia Margaret Cameron: Sir John F. W. Herschel)

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Julia Margaret Cameron (England, 1815–1879)

Sir John F. W. Herschel. 1867

Albumen print

14 x 10 3/4 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.35

British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron brought her bulky camera close to her sitters, capturing their portraits on large plates (approximately 11 x 14 in.). Cameron often wrote below these life-size prints, “From Life Not Enlarged.” She was known for capturing the psychological and intellectual qualities of her sitters. When making this portrait of Sir John F. W. Herschel, Cameron encouraged the famed astronomer to move during the exposure, blurring the finished print. She thought this might visually evoke his reputation for innovation.

(Charles Lutwidge [Lewis Carroll] Dodgso: Lorina Liddell with Black Doll)

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Charles Lutwidge [Lewis Carroll] Dodgson (England, 1832–1898)

Lorina Liddell with Black Doll. 1858

Albumen print

5 1/8 x 4 1/8 in. image size

Henry Art Gallery, Joseph and Elaine Monsen Photography Collection, gift of Joseph and Elaine Monsen and The Boeing Company, 97.51

English author and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a photographic artist and a prominent member of Victorian society.  Dodgson (better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll) made studies of children, landscapes, sculpture, skeletons, and animals. His close relationship with the Liddell family is recorded in photographs he made of them. This albumen print pictures Lorina Liddell, whose younger sister Alice Liddell is alleged to be the young girl immortalized in Dodgson’s/Carroll’s masterpiece, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.