Mary Dillwyn

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Mary Dillwyn
Mary Dillwyn M.D. 1853.jpg
Mary Dillwyn, self-portrait (c. 1853)
Born 1816
Died December 1906
Arthog, Meirionnydd, Wales
Occupation photographer and wife
Known for pioneering photography
Spouse(s) Reverend Montague Earle Welby
Parent(s) Lewis Weston Dillwyn
Mary Adams (cy)
'Willy' smiling, 1853

Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906) is considered to be the earliest female photographer in Wales, who took photographs of flowers, animals, family and friends in the 1840s and 1850s. She provided a raw insight to the domestic lives of women and children living in 19th century Britain, pushing the boundaries of what could be considered as worthy subjects to photograph.


Mary Dillwyn was the daughter of Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778–1855) and Mary Adams (1776-1865), the natural daughter of Colonel John Llewelyn of Penllergaer and Ynysygerwn. She was the younger sister of photographer John Dillwyn Llewelyn (1810-1882), who developed new photographic techniques, and Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn, the father of Amy Dillwyn. The Dillwyn Llewelyn family was also related through marriage to William Henry Fox Talbot, who claimed to discover photography in 1839. She was ahead of her time for her interest in new revolutionary technology: Most of the photographs taken by Dillwyn are small calotypes from the 1840s and 1850s, making her the first female photographer in Wales. Unlike her male counterparts, Dillwyn preferred a small camera which, as it only needed short exposure times, provided her with the opportunity to take more spontaneous photographs that captured the intimate moments of her family and friends in Victorian life. Because of this, her work appeared as more natural than those of other photographers of the period. Her interest in photography appears to have ended in 1857 when she married Reverend Montague Earle Welby.[1][2] Mary died at Arthog, Meirionnydd in December 1906.[3]


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 Llewelyn home at Penllergaer, portraits of family and friends and studies of flowers and birds.[4] One of her images is said to be the first photograph of a smile.[5] 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.[5] 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.[6]

She is also credited with taking the first known photograph of a snowman.[7]



  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. ^ LLGC/NLW. "Early Photography in Swansea". Retrieved 4 March 2016.  External link in |website= (help)
  4. ^ "Photograph album by Mary Dillwyn", National Library of Wales. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b John Ezard, "First smile captured on film in Britain", The Guardian, 26 February 2003. Retrieved 12 March 2013. The "first smile" claim is certainly wrong: see, for example, the well-known c. 1844 "Edinburgh Ale" in the Hill & Adamson article's gallery.
  6. ^ "Mary Dillwyn's Llysdinam Album", National Library of Wales. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  7. ^ Hawken, Abe (December 23, 2016). "First EVER snowman picture is uncovered 150 years after it was taken by pioneering woman photographer". Daily Mail. Retrieved December 23, 2016. 

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