Mary Dillwyn

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Mary Dillwyn, self-portrait (c. 1853)
'Willy' smiling, 1853. Probably the first smile ever captured on film.

Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906), claimed to be the earliest female photographer in Wales, took amateur photographs of flowers, animals, family and friends in the 1840s and 1850s.


Mary Dillwyn was the younger sister of the more widely recognized photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn (1810-1882) who developed new photographic techniques. Most of the photographs taken by Dillwyn are small calotypes from the 1840s and 1850s, making her the first female photographer in Wales. Her images are more spontaneous and natural than those of other photographers of the period. Her interest in photography appears to have ended in 1857 when she married Montague Earle Welby.[1][2]


Photographs taken by Dillwyn have been preserved in albums acquired by the National Library of Wales. An album containing 42 salt prints and 1 albumen print, measuring 11.1 × 8.8 cm, was bought by the library in 2002. It contains views of the Dillwyn Llewlyn home at Penllergaer, portraits of family and friends and studies of flowers and birds.[3] One of her images is said to be the first photograph of a smile. She managed to capture the fleeting expression of her little nephew, William Mansel Llewelyn, as he gazed intently at something off camera. The photograph is typical of Dillwyn's informal approach.[4] A second album, the Llysdinam Album (c. 1853), measuring 12 × 9.7 cm, contains 72 salt prints from the calotype process. The images are of flowers, dolls, birds and pet animals as well as family and friends. It was acquired by the National Library of Wales in 2007.[5]


  1. ^ Iwan Meical Jones, "Susan Franklen's photograph album", Early Swansea Photography. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  2. ^ "Thereza Mary Dillwyn Story-Maskelyne", Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  3. ^ "Photograph album by Mary Dillwyn", National Library of Wales. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  4. ^ John Ezard, "First smile captured on film in Britain", The Guardian, 26 February 2003. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  5. ^ "Mary Dillwyn's Llysdinam Album", National Library of Wales. Retrieved 12 March 2013.

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