Monday, August 27, 2012

Henry Collen-Painter, photographer, photocopier

While trying to decide what to blog about, I thought about my current wip (Regency era) and how my hero was fixing to leave on a voyage. My hero and heroine had just gotten married the night before and she wants to give him something to remember her by (not that he would ever forget her). I thought of jewelry, a note, a hairpin, nothing seemed right.

Then a portrait miniature came to mind. As I researched the tiny paintings, I was fascinated that the earliest portrait miniaturists go as far back as 1450.

One particular English portraitist I found interesting was Henry Collen (October 9, 1797 – May 8, 1879). Below is a self portrait.

Henry learned to paint at the Royal Academy under the tutelage of Sir George Hayter, who was a close friend to the Collen family.

Arguably, below is the most famous miniature Henry painted. It is Princess Victoria in 1836, just a year before she became queen.

He also painted others of the queen and of the Duchess of Kent, just to name a couple of his clients.

By 1840 Henry was an established portrait painter and became interested in electrotyping daguerreotype plates, the first commercially successful photographic process. The image is made on a copper plate that resembles a mirror. It is very fragile and can be rubbed with with a finger.He also began experimenting with calotype process. Calotype was an early photographic process developed by Fox Talbot which used paper sensitized with silver chloride that darkened in proportion to its exposure to light. The paper had to be exposed in the camera until the image was fully visible, typically an hour. And since he and Talbot were colleagues, they collaborated--with Talbot supplying the photographic knowledge, while Collen brought the artistic know-how.

In 1841 Talbot licensed Henry as the first professional photographer, or calotypist. Henry opened the first calotype portrait studio in London. He was said to produce miniatures that were a combination of old art painting and new art photography, because he enhanced the photos with paint.

Below is one of his photos, it depicts Queen Victoria with her daughter.


In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking was signed (ending the Opium War between China and England) and brought to Collen to be copied. The treaty consisted of 22 pages written in English and 16 written with Chinese characters. The task was almost impossible because to exactly copy the documents, it had to be printed on pages that were 4 foot long. It is believed Collen made three copies of the document and it can be argued he was the only man in the world with the knowledge and the expertise to have done the job.

Because of many different reasons, one being it was not profitable; Collen ended his calotype business in 1844. He painted and photographed many of the most influential people of his era.

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  1. Interesting! I find miniatures fascinating too.

    One thing - 1936, re Queen Victoria, think you mean 1836?

  2. I learn so much reading these blog posts! Fascinating info. Of course, it should be 1836.

  3. I guess I find miniatures so fascinating because of what they had to work with back then...their brushes, the paint. Of course, I couldn't see well enough to do anything that intricate, even if I did have the artistic talent! LOL.

    Thanks for catching my year it corrected.

  4. 1450??? Wow! I'm with you, Tess. How did they do it?

  5. Wonderful post, Tess.

  6. I love your idea to have him give her a miniature (though I guess that can't have been a last minute decision). I'm always fascinated by those who have the ability to draw or paint anything, because I do not.

  7. Thanks to everyone who stopped by.


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