Henry Peach Robinson

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Robinson's When the Day's Work is Done (1877). Combination print made from six different negatives.

Henry Peach Robinson (9 July 1830, Ludlow, Shropshire – 21 February 1901, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent) was an English pictorialist photographer best known for his pioneering combination printing [1] - joining multiple negatives or prints to form a single image;[2] an early example of photomontage.[3] He joined vigorously in contemporary debates [4] in the photographic press and associations about the legitimacy of 'art photography' and in particular the combining of separate images into one.[5]


Robinson was the oldest of four children of John Robinson, a Ludlow schoolmaster, and his wife Eliza.[6] He was educated at Horatio Russell's academy in Ludlow until he was thirteen, when he took a year's drawing tuition with Richard Penwarne before being apprenticed to a Ludlow bookseller and printer, Richard Jones.

While continuing to study art, his initial career was in bookselling, in 1850 working for the Bromsgrove bookseller Benjamin Maund, then in 1851 for the London-based Whittaker & Co. In 1852 he exhibited an oil painting, On the Teme Near Ludlow, at the Royal Academy.[7] That same year he began taking photographs, and five years later, following a meeting with the photographer Hugh Welch Diamond, decided to devote himself to that medium, in 1855 opening a studio in Leamington Spa, selling portraits.

In 1856, with Rejlander, he was a founding member of the Birmingham Photographic Society.

In 1859 he married Selina Grieves, daughter of a Ludlow chemist, John Edward Grieves.

In 1864, at the age of thirty-four, Robinson was forced to give up his studio due to ill-health from exposure to toxic photographic chemicals. Gernsheim (1962) has shown that thereafter he preferred the easier 'scissors and paste-pot' method of making his combination prints, rather than the more exacting darkroom method employed by Rejlander.

Relocating to London, Robinson kept up his involvement with the theoretical side of photography, writing the influential essay Pictorial Effect in Photography, Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers, published in 1868. Around this time his health had improved sufficiently to open a new studio[8] in Tunbridge Wells with Nelson King Cherrill, and in 1870 he become vice-president of the Royal Photographic Society. He advocated strongly for photography to be regarded as an art form.

The partnership with Cherrill dissolved in 1875, Robinson continuing the business until his retirement in 1888. Following internal disputes within the Photographic Society, he resigned in 1891 to become one of the early members of the rival Linked Ring society, in which he was active until 1897, when he was also elected an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society.

Robinson was an early supporter of the Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom and took part in this institution's long running debates about photography as an art form.[9] He was invited to serve as the President of the PCUK in 1891 but, as he described later, 'I felt compelled to decline, knowing that I could not carry out the duties as they should be carried out, having a defect of voice which would not allow me to read my own address'. He was subsequently persuaded to serve as President in 1896, when his presidential speeches were read out by a colleague.[10]

He died and was buried in Tunbridge Wells in early 1901.


Robinson's Fading Away (1858)

Although he was one of the most prominent art photographers of his day,[11] he is now often considered conventional, even academic.[citation needed] His third and the most famous composite picture, "Fading Away" (1858) was both popular and fashionably morbid. He was a follower of the pre-Raphaelites and was influenced by the aesthetic views of John Ruskin. In his Pre-Raphaelite phase he attempted to realize moments of timeless significance in a "mediaeval" setting, anticipating the work of Julia Margaret Cameron, Burne-Jones and the Symbolists. According to his letters, he was influenced by the paintings of J.M.W. Turner.


Robinson was author of a number of texts in which he promoted the photography as an art form, his books being widely used photographic reference material in the late 19th-century.

  • Robinson, H.P. Pictorial Effect In Photography: Being Hints On Composition And Chiaroscuro For Photographers. London: Piper & Carter, 1869.
  • Robinson, H.P. and William de Wiveleslie Abney. The Art And Practice Of Silver Printing. NY: E. & H.T. Anthony & Co., 1881.
  • Robinson, H.P. Picture-Making By Photography. London: Hazell, Watson, & Viney, 1889.
  • Robinson, H.P. Art photography in short chapters London: Hazell Watson & Viney. 1890
  • Robinson, H.P. Photography as a business. Bradford [Eng.] Percy Lund. 1890
  • Robinson, H.P. The Studio And What To Do In It. London: Piper & Carter, 1891.
  • Robinson, H.P. The elements of a pictorial photograph. Bradford : Percy Lund & Co. 1896.
  • Robinson, H.P. Catalogue of pictorial photographs. Ralph W. Robinson. Redhill, Surrey. 1901

Books about Henry Peach Robinson[edit]

  • Fineman, Mia; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.); National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2012), Faking it : manipulated photography before Photoshop, Metropolitan Museum of Art ; New Haven : Distributed by Yale University Press, ISBN 978-1-58839-473-6 
  • Handy, Ellen (2004) "Robinson, Henry Peach (1830–1901)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 17 Dec 2007
  • Handy, Ellen; Rice, Shelley; Lukacher, Brian (1994), Pictorial effect naturalistic vision : the photographs and theories of Henry Peach Robinson and Peter Henry Emerson, Chrysler Museum, ISBN 978-0-940744-66-0 
  • Harker, Margaret F. (Margaret Florence) (1988), Henry Peach Robinson : master of photographic art, 1830-1901, B. Blackwell, ISBN 978-0-631-16172-1 
  • Roberts, Pam; Smith, Lindsay; Lamb, Jenny (2009), Fading Away: Henry Peach Robinson Revisited, Warwick District Council, ISBN 978-1-872-940113 
  • Shiner, L. E. (Larry E.) (2001), The invention of art : a cultural history, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-75342-3 


  1. ^ Robinson, H. P. (1860). On Printing Photographic Pictures from Several Negatives. British Journal of Photography, 7(115), 94.
  2. ^ Vertrees, A. (1982). The picture making of Henry Peach Robinson'.Perspectives on Photography, Austin, Texas, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, 79, 101.
  3. ^ Oscar Gustave Rejlander preceded Robinson in developing combination printing techniques in the mid-1850s, exhibiting his The Two Ways of Life by 1857, while in the 1855 Journal of Photography Scottish colleagues Berwick and Annan proposed such a technique. Earlier again, in 1852 De Montfort published Procede de grouper plusiers portraits obtenue isolement afin d'en former un seul tableau heliographique (Procedure for grouping several separately obtained portraits in order to make a single heliographic plate). See Prodger, Phillip (2009), Darwin's camera : art and photography in the theory of evolution, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-515031-5  p. 166
  4. ^ Robinson, H. P. (1860). Composition NOT Patchwork. British Journal of Photography, 7(121), 190.
  5. ^ Harker, M. (1989). Henry Peach Robinson:“The Grammar of Art.”. British Photography in the Nineteenth Century.
  6. ^ Harker, Margaret F. (Margaret Florence) (1988), Henry Peach Robinson : master of photographic art, 1830-1901, B. Blackwell, ISBN 978-0-631-16172-1 
  7. ^ The journal 'The Photogram', in a brief biography of HP Robinson, wrote:
    Mr Robinson ... early took to artistic and literary pursuits. While quite a boy, he contributed both matter and sketches to 'The London Illustrated News' and 'The Journal of the Archaeological Society'; and before he came of age, exhibited a painting at the Exhibition of the Royal Academy
    [The Photogram, March 1895, p.81]
  8. ^ The National Portrait Gallery, London holds several examples of commercial portraits he made there
  9. ^ British Journal of Photography July 14th 1999 pages 437 pp, Presidential address by William Crooke to the Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom, July 10, 1899.
  10. ^ British Journal of Photography July 17th 1896 pages 454 pp, Presidential address by H.P. Robinson to the Photographic Convention of the United Kingdom, July 13th 1896
  11. ^ In 1895, the journal 'The Photogram', in a brief biography of HP Robinson, wrote:
    "Mr Robinson stands, as he has done for years, as probably the best known man in photography, and the one whose words and example have done more than those of any other man to create and encourage photographic workers."
    [The Photogram, March 1895, p.81]

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