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Henry Peach Robinson

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Henry Peach Robinson (c. 1870)
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 engaged in contemporary debates in the photographic press and associations about the legitimacy of 'art photography' and in particular the combining of separate images into one. [4][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 he worked 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. Five years later, following a meeting with the photographer Hugh Welch Diamond, he decided to devote himself to that medium. He opened his first studio in 1855 in Leamington Spa to sell 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. His son, Ralph Winwood Robinson, was also a photographer.[8]

In 1864, at the age of 34, 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 (1869), Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers, published in 1868. Around this time his health had improved sufficiently to open a new studio[9] in Tunbridge Wells with Nelson King Cherrill, and in 1870 he became 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. His son, Ralph Winwood Robinson, took over the studio business.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12]

He died aged 70 and was buried in Tunbridge Wells in early 1901.


Robinson's Fading Away (1858)

He was one of the most prominent art photographers of his day.[13] His third and the most famous[14] composite picture, "Fading Away" (1858), was both popular and fashionably morbid.[15] He was a follower of the pre-Raphaelites[16] and was influenced by the aesthetic views of John Ruskin.[17] 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. He defended composite photography, asserting that the creation of combination photographs was as demanding of the photographer as paintings were of the artist.[18] Robinson compared the making of Fading Away with Zeuxis' legendary combining of the best features of five young ladies from Crotona to produce his picture of Helena.[19]



Robinson's work is held in the permanent collections of several institutions, including the Johnson Museum of Art,[20] the Clark Art Institute,[21] the Seattle Art Museum,[22] the Saint Louis Art Museum,[23] the George Eastman Museum,[24] the Worcester Art Museum,[25] the SFMOMA,[26] the University of Michigan Museum of Art,[27] the LACMA,[28] the Harvard Art Museums,[29] the Princeton University Art Museum,[30] the Metropolitan Museum of Art,[31] the J. Paul Getty Museum,[32] and the National Gallery of Victoria.[33]



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

  • 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 (2003), Fading Away: Henry Peach Robinson Revisited, Warwick District Council (published 2009), ISBN 978-1-872-940113
  • Shiner, L. E. (Larry E.) (September 2001), The invention of art : a cultural history, University of Chicago Press (published 2001), 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 (22 October 2009), Darwin's camera : art and photography in the theory of evolution, Oxford University Press (published 2009), p. 166, ISBN 978-0-19-515031-5. Gustave Le Gray, also in 1957, achieved simultaneous detail in both sky and sea through combination printing in his 'The Great Wave', 1857, Albumen print from collodion-on-glass negative. Museum no. 68:004, Victoria and Albert Museum, London. French architectural photographer Edouard Baldus, commissioned in 1851 to document the state of French architectural heritage, employed combination printing techniques from paper negatives to produce not only panoramas, but also to deal with technical limitations of exposure range and depth of focus, particularly for his Cloister of St.. Trephine, Arles, 1851
  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. ^ "Ralph Winwood Robinson - National Portrait Gallery".
  9. ^ The National Portrait Gallery, London holds several examples of commercial portraits he made there
  10. ^ "Ralph Winwood Robinson - National Portrait Gallery".
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ 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]
  14. ^ Mogensen, J. U. (2006). Fading into Innocence: Death, Sexuality and Moral Restoration in Henry Peach Robinson's Fading Away. Victorian Review, 1-17. Chicago
  15. ^ “Fading Away presents an image of mortality that can be viewed alternately as an incriminating paradigm of Victorian bathos and the nineteenth-century cult of the beautiful death, or as an eerie visualizing of Roland Barthes’s solemn pronouncement that death is the eidos of photography." Brian Lukacher, "Powers of Sight: Robinson, Emerson and the Polemics of Pictorial Photography, ” in Pictorial Effect, Naturalistic Vision: The Photographs and Theories of Henry Peach Robinson and Peter Henry Emerson, ed. Ellen Handy (Norfolk, Va.: Chrysler Museum, 1994), 32.
  16. ^ Bartram, Michael (1985). The pre-Raphaelite camera : aspects of Victorian photography. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London
  17. ^ John Taylor (1979) Henry Peach Robinson and Victorian theory, History of Photography, 3:4, 295–303,
  18. ^ The Art journal (1 February 1863) p. 38
  19. ^ Fading Away was made from five separate negatives and required three years' practice before the principal subject was sufficiently able to convey the appearance of slipping into oblivion (see Brit. journ. Photo. (1860) p. 95 and Robinson's Pictorial Eflect in Photography (1869))
  20. ^ "Helping Her Over (from Figures in Landscape series, N.Wales)". emuseum.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  21. ^ "After the Lunch". www.clarkart.edu. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  22. ^ "A Merry Tale". Seattle Art Museum. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  23. ^ "Little Red Riding Hood". Saint Louis Art Museum. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  24. ^ "Going a Milking". collections.eastman.org. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  25. ^ "Rusthall Common, Tunbridge". worcester.emuseum.com. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  26. ^ "Dawn and Sunset". SFMOMA. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  27. ^ "Exchange: The Shortest Way in Summertime". exchange.umma.umich.edu. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  28. ^ "When Day's Work Is Done | LACMA Collections". collections.lacma.org. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  29. ^ Harvard. "From the Harvard Art Museums' collections A Moving Tale". harvardartmuseums.org. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  30. ^ "Feeding the Calves (x1983-1547)". artmuseum.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  31. ^ "Henry Peach Robinson | Fear". www.metmuseum.org. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  32. ^ "When the Day's Work Is Done (Getty Museum)". The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  33. ^ "Works | NGV | View Work". www.ngv.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 2 July 2021.