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Oliver Sarony

Oliver Sarony visited Bradford in 1846 as an itinerant photographer and setup a studio in Leeds in 1862. He travelled to and worked from many other places but eventually settled in Scarborough where he established a very prestigious studio which was probably one of the most successful studios in Europe.  His younger brother Napoleon was equally successful. Although Napoleon worked in England and possibly Ireland during the early 1860's he spent most of his career in New York, in his early years as an artist and lithographer, and later when he returned to New York in 1866 as a photographer specialising in celebrity portraits.

Oliver Sarony Baptism
Oliver and Napoleon were the sons of Adolphus Sarony and Maria Lehouillier. Adolphus had emigrated from Europe, most probably Prussia, to settle in Quebec, he married his Canadian born wife Maria in 1818, Oliver was born in 1820 and Napoleon in 1821, and they were both baptised at Notre Dame in Quebec City. (Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-1967) . Oliver was baptised Francois Levy Xavier Sarony and Napoleon was baptised Gustave Adolphe Napolion Sarony.  They later became better known by the names of Oliver Sarony and Napoleon Sarony, however Oliver is widely referred to as Oliver Francois Xavier Sarony. The family moved from Quebec to New York where Adolphus became an American Citizen in 1822. To do so he switched his allegiance from the King of Prussia to the United States. 1 . In 1897 an account of Napoleon's life was published in the Wilson's Photographic Gazette Vol 34, it is suggested here that the Sarony brothers had a British, Italian and French ancestry and that their father served in the Austrian Army and their mother Maria was French. 

When Maria died in 1831 Adolphus was left with six children to bring up, other than Oliver and Napoleon there were two more brothers and two sisters. The youngest child was just three and the eldest thirteen.

The Daguerreotype process

Adolphus died in 1841 and Oliver decided to move to England. Some accounts say that he was already trained in the art of the daguerreotype and he came across equipped to take portraits, but where this information originated from is hard to say..

Oliver Sarony is known to have visited Bradford in 1846. The only record of this appears to be an advertisement in the Bradford Observer dated 6th August. It refers to him as being at the Golden Lion Hotel from 10am till 3pm, for a few days only to take likenesses by the new and perfect discovery of the Daguerreotype. When he visited Bradford it is fairly certain that he didn't have a licence to use this process.

The Daguerrotype process was the first photographic process to be used commercially. It had been invented by Louis Daguerre and was revealed to the world in August 1839. The process was free to use throughout the world with the exception of England. In 1841 Richard Beard purchased the patent rights for use in England, he opened his own studio in Regent Street in London in March 1841 and opened two more studios one in King William Street and one in Parliament Street, upon their success he decided to sell licences to other photographers for use throughout the regions.

The York Herald reported on the 25th June 1842 “that Mr Baird is desirous of introducing the invention generally throughout the country by means of licences, which will be great accommodation to the provincial public, and a source of advantage to the licentiates, who probably for an outlay of hundreds may reap thousands!”

The price paid for a licence would depend upon the population of the City, Town or District. Not all the fee was due straight away and the licensee could defer half of the fee until actual profits were made. Other arrangements for payment were also possible by special agreement. 2 .

Samuel Topham and Hugh Pritchard announced that they were buying a licence from Beard and thus became sole licensees for Leeds. They opened up their  studio at 27 Park Lane, Leeds on the 14th April 1842 and named it ‘The Photographic Portrait Gallery’. 3   However there is evidence that Edward Holland was also operating in Leeds during this period. The Bradford Observer reported in 27th April 1843 p5 that Holland had ‘for a year past been fully engaged in Leeds in taking portraits by the Daguerreotype process’. In the same edition he announced that he was in Bradford for two weeks and that he had the licence for ‘certain districts of Yorkshire’. Without being specific about what all the districts were he does go on to say that he ‘was the only person who can legally visit Bradford for the purpose of taking portraits on the above principal during the existence of the patent right (ten years)’  There was also an advertisement in the paper possibly from Holland asking for a business partner who would be willing to invest £300-£400 to manage one of his districts. So it would appear that Topham and Pritchard had the licence for Leeds and Holland the licence for Bradford from 1842. In the case of Holland the indenture was dated 10th November 1842.

It is not known how much Topham and Pritchard paid for their licence in Leeds but in Liverpool the fee was in the region of £2,500 whereas in Cambridgeshire it was only £400. 4 .

Beard defended his patent and took six photographers to court for allegedly breaching his rights/breaking contracts, these were Claudet, Edgerton, Barber, Edwards, Bake/Chapple and Edward Holland of Yorkshire in 1843. 5  . Interestingly Holland was taken to court for not paying the balance of his licence fee. In May 1843 he still owed £300 to Beard and his inability to pay resulted in him ceasing trading. So it is very likely that it was Holland that placed the advertisement in the Bradford Observer on the 27th April 1843 and he was looking for a partner in order to raise the capital to pay Beard the balance of what he owed. Holland had in fact been granted rights to a number of towns in Yorkshire and Derbyshire but this excluded Leeds. The area covered extended to Doncaster, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Halifax, Bingley, Otley, Ripley, Keighley, Skipton, Pately Bridge, Brough Bridge, Knarsborough, Aberford, Selby, Buxton and Bakewell but note there is no specific mention of Bradford.6 7 .

Holland and Sarony were not alone in visiting Bradford during the 1840s. John Eastham took up residence in 1849 (possibly 1848) and stayed from January until June after which he returned to Blackpool. Whilst in Bradford he took no less that 2000 portraits. 7a He operated from The Manor House in Kirkgate. The studio could be accessed through Mr Goodchild's Temperence Hotel. As an artist he claimed that he took portraits of 'unrivalled beauty and correctness' and that he had a faithful likeness of some of the most popular and influential men in Bradford.  7b  Later Eastham set up in partnership with Alexander Bassano in Manchester and London. A studio had also sprung up in Regent Place, Bradford at the top of Piccadilly in September 1844 7c and continued there until May 1845. 7d Portraits 'By the Royal letters patent' were 10s 6d with an extra 2s 6d if they were coloured. It is not known who operated this gallery.(further research to be carried out) Was Holland still operating in Bradford or had someone else taken his place?

As can be seen from Hollands advertising Beard's patent rights were due to expire in 1853 and this is when we see Oliver, certainly based upon press reports, being most active touring mainly Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. 

Oliver Sarony NPG P613Oliver Sarony by Oliver Sarony albumen print late 1850s
© National Portrait Gallery, London NPG P613

Sarony's Itinerant years

Oliver travelled from place to place working as an itinerant photographer and people in outlying towns and villages who perhaps had never had the opportunity to visit a studio before flocked to him to have their likeness taken.

After his initial visit to Bradford in 1846 his movements up to 1850 are unclear but he did marry Elizabeth Lee in Hull on the 4th February 1850. She was the daughter of George Lee a local farmer. 8  

During late 1850 and early 1851 he visited New Malton where he was took 'many excellent portraits' and with the kind permission of the Earl of Carlisle in January 1851 he also had the opportunity to take a photograph of Castle Howard along with one of the celebrated picture The Three Mary’s. 9 

The 1851 census shows Oliver and Elizabeth lodging at the Blacksmiths Arms Inn in Market Place, Thirsk which is 27 miles from New Malton.  Oliver’s occupation was shown as Photographist and Elizabeth as Photographists wife. Another resident of Market Place was Alfred Lancaster, Artist, he was lodging with Thomas Smelt a Cabinet Maker. Alfred may not have worked for Oliver at this stage but he would in later years. Alfred was from Bradford, he had three brothers, Edward who in 1851 was an Artist and Portrait Painter living in Otley but prior to this in 1844 he was working in Bradford as an itinerant silhouette artist, John Lancaster an apprentice cabinet maker living in Manningham Bradford and Hutchinson Lancaster, aged 14 who in 1851 was an errand boy living with his parents in Horton, Bradford. Their father was a wool sorter. All four brothers were destined to become involved in one way or another in the photography business. 10 

Seemingly having adopted America Oliver took advertising space in the Derbyshire Courier to announce that he was visiting Chesterfield for a fortnight only. "Mr Sarony the American Photographist has opened his photographic portrait rooms in the cricket field, Wheeldon Lane, Chesterfield where portraits are taken on the newest and most approved principals daily from 9am till 5pm. Oliver proclaimed that he had visited all the principal photographic establishments in the United States, England and Ireland also saying that he had ten years experience. (Derbyshire Courier 22nd May 1852) He announced the new process of enamelling with portraits from 5s. The reception in Chesterfield was so good he had to extend his stay. The Courier reported 29th May " Mr Sarony has created such a furore in Chesterfield this week by taking likenesses almost ad infinitum. ... The portraits are perfect gems. We would advise all who wish to preserve faithful likenesses of themselves or their friends to visit Mr Sarony's establishment without delay" He was due to leave for Mansfield the following Monday. However the Courier had one last thing to say on the 12th June. "There is however another department in which Mr Sarony has been, if possible, more successful, the transmission of pictures and paintings to the magical photographic plates. In this class one of the most beautiful we have had the pleasure of examining is the Three Mary's copied by permission of the Earl of Carlisle from the celebrated painting by Annibal Caracci..... It is in fact a masterpiece of photographic art"

By May 1853 possibly earlier Oliver struck up a partnership with John/Joseph Baume and they worked together in George Street, Huddersfield. They were promoting Mr Baumes new process of enamelling, which they claimed renders the portraits ‘perfectly durable, and gives them the appearance of miniatures on Ivory’ 11  Soon after this Oliver moved on to Louth. It should be noted that Baume is referred to as John Baum in Heathcote's 'A Faithful Likeness' however the press articles covering the break up of the Sarony/Baume partnership refer to him as Joseph Baume

An incident occurred in July of 1853 when a parcel containing 17 daguerreotype portraits was stolen. The Huddersfield Chronicle reported “…. FIVE Pounds Reward….  A person was instructed to book the parcel at Driffield, but the train being in motion, the Guard was desired to take charge of it. He refusing, it was given into the custody of a person who promised to see it safely delivered at the booking office, Hull, but unfortunately the parcel has not been since heard of. Whoever will bring the parcel to Mr Baume, Huddersfield; Mr Sarony, Louth, or Mr Sarony at Filey will obtain the above reward”  This clearly points to Sarony being in two places, still having the association with Baume and begs the question why were the portraits put on the train in Driffield, was this the nearest station to Filey  or were the portraits being taken to the area for some work to be completed on them by a third party. 

Oliver stayed in Louth until August when he moved on to Boston, Lincolnshire. 12  Always pushing for the latest developments the stereo daguerreotype was introduced in September of 1853. 13  He stayed in Boston until February 1854 when he moved on to Sleaford. The next location he was traced to was Stamford in Lincolnshire during May 1854. 14  . He then spent sometime in Sleaford and in Wisbech and then in September moved on to Cambridge. 15 

Alfred and Edward Lancaster along with John/Joseph Baume had a close association with Oliver during this period. Alfred was an artist and colourist introducing appropriate backgrounds and landscapes, coloured by him 'thus combining a pleasing picture with an unerring likeness' 16  Alfred continued to work for Oliver for a number of years including time in Scarborough where Alfred eventually settled with his family, probably from 1857 onwards. This circle of friends/business associates may have also extended to a Mr Samuel Greenwood Hudson who advertised in the Hull Packet on the 28th April 1854. he said that he had been a partner with Oliver Sarony and that Edward Lancaster ex colourist for Oliver Sarony was now working with him. The 1861 census shows Samuel to be a photographic artist and in the 1871 census a photographer and tobacconist living in Paragon Street, Hull. The book 'A Faithful Likeness' suggests that Samuel was a former pupil and assistant to Oliver, but perhaps he became more than this and he may have actually been a full blown business partner.

Whilst in Cambridge Oliver did face competition and competition who were using new and arguably improved and certainly cheaper ways of taking photographs. The Wet Collodion process had been introduced by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 the process was described in an article in the March edition of 'The Chemist'.  One of the greatest advantages of the Wet Collodion process over Daguerreotypes was that a glass plate was used and any number of prints could be taken on paper. In November 1854 Oliver was advertising ' a large collection of views and landscapes on waxed paper, collodion, &c '  but there was no mention of using this new process for the purposes of taking portraits whilst others had moved on. On the 30th December W Nichols one of Oliver's competitors was advertising Chromo Collodotype Portraits singly or in groups from his premises at 29 Corn Exchange Street Cambridge and not only that he was selling a superior camera and chemicals for the Collodion process for just £4. The next advertisement lower down the page featured Oliver who was still promoting his Daguerreotypes. However, all had changed by May of 1855, Oliver announced that he had introduced the Collodion process with all the improvements now practised by the first artists in London and Paris; 'they are preferred by some to Daguerreotypes on account of the absence of that glare which is so noticeable in Daguerreotypes and as Mr Sarony can produce them equally as sharp and brilliant in tone and beautifully coloured also, he hopes that those of his numerous Friends who wish to have a really good Collodion will honour him with a visit at their earliest convenience. Collodions beautifully coloured from 5s, Daguerreotype Portraits from 6s'

After spending quite some time in Cambridge Oliver eventually moved to Norwich and worked there from January through to July 1856 he then moved on to Kings Lynn where he stayed from November 1856 to March 1857. Soon after Oliver moved to Norwich another itinerant photographer John Beattie announced on the 19th January in the Norfolk News that he was to open photographic rooms in Norwich in the next few days.The public would have the opportunity to have beautiful oil and water coloured photographic miniatures which for the fidelity of likeness and truly artistic execution, have never been surpassed. But by the following week on the 26th of January Beattie had changed his mind, he took the same advertising space in the Norfolk News and said "Mr John Beattie finding that Norwich had already the advantage of the presence of Mr Sarony, a most able photographic artist wishes to inform his friends that he has changed his intention of visiting Norwich, as announced last week. Had Beattie not realised Sarony was already there or was something else going on behind the scenes. In fact as it turns out Beattie and Sarony had come to an arrangement not to compete with each other. The story is told by Audrey Linkman in an article in the Scottish Photographic Bulletin No1 1992. Beattie continued his travels until 1858 when he decided to settle in Bristol and open a permanent studio.

As Oliver worked his way around Yorkshire and Lincolnshire he must have been seeking a formula that would be successful so as to develop a business model he could rely upon. At some point and this may been very early on he hit upon the idea of the display and sale of artworks alongside his photography and working with artists to combine the talents of a photographer with that of an artist. This would create opportunities to upsell. So for example instead of a client purchasing a simple mono image Oliver would sell the idea of having it coloured or for it to be used as a basis to create a painted portrait. In this way Oliver could significantly increase his income and the operation was likely to attract a more wealthy clientèle. His method of operating when setting up a new studio certainly from 1857 seemed to be to firstly establish a gallery to attract visitors and fill this with portraits of famous people and as he took portraits of the local dignitaries he would place them in his gallery and this would attract even more attention from visitors.  Sometimes he would put his pictures on display in other premises in the town which would attract the attention of prospective clients who would then presumably be directed to his studio. Portraits of the rich and famous would also sell of course and those displaying Sarony's pictures may well have later been selling celebrity carte de visites. 

Art and the Photographer

Over the years Oliver began to build a considerable reputation. The employment of top class artists most certainly contributed to this. One of these artists was Thomas Carrick. Thomas was a self taught miniature portraitist. Although he was trained as a chemist his real interest lie in painting. He was born in Upperby and in 1836 after a disagreement with his family he moved with his wife and children from Carlisle to Newcastle. In 1838 the Society of Arts presented him with a silver Isis medal for pioneering the painting of miniatures on ivory.  17  In the following year he moved to London and two years later he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy. Among his most famous sitters were Lord John Russell, Sir Robert Peel, and the poets Wordsworth and Longfellow. “His vivacity as a conversationalist and his store of anecdotes, enabled him to awaken the interest of his sitters and seize the characteristic expression” 18  From 1841 until 1866 he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy, submitting eight portraits per year. Carrick was at the height of his profession. In 1845 he was given a medal by Prince Albert  as a reward for his invention of painting miniatures on Ivory.

But times were changing and as the popularity of photographic portraits increased the demand for miniatures decreased. The price of having a portrait taken must have played a major part in this. An artist would have charged between 40 to 60 guineas for a miniature portrait  19  whereas Sarony’s prices for example in 1857 for a small photographic sepia portrait was one guinea and for a coloured version ‘equal to the finest miniatures on ivory’ two guineas. 20 

The idea of using a photograph as a starting point in the process of producing a painted portrait must have caught the imagination of Thomas Carrick when Mr Joseph Armstrong an ex sheriff suggested this to him.  “It was reasonably argued that, if such excellent portraits were already produced in this way by inferior hands, there were really no limits to the exquisite character of the miniatures which might be produced by his” 21 . Thomas took some examples of portraits taken by Sarony to work on and the results were said to be satisfactory. As Oliver Sarony was acknowledged to be an extraordinary photographer who better for Carrick to work with. After some negotiations the two men agreed to work together.

Meanwhile over in New York Oliver's brother Napoleon had lost his wife Ellen Major in January 1858. They had four children, three daughters, Ida born 1848 and Jennie (Jane) born 1852, Mary born 1854 and a son Otto born 1850.  Napoleon had been working as an artist and lithographer first with Henry R Robinson and Nathaniel Currier, and then in his own business as a partner with James Major from 1843. Napoleon and his remaining family moved to England and there was an opportunity for him to catch up with what Oliver was doing, and perhaps share some of his ideas and practices. Napoleon got involved in the photography business in England and possibly in Ireland.

The Second Phase

Following the period in which Oliver was travelling from town to town as an Itinerant Photographer what could be said to be a second phase of his business began and lasted from 1857 to 1866. He set up a number of studios, operating them on a seasonal basis, spending the summer and autumn in Scarborough and the first part of the year in other towns such as Newcastle (1858), Dublin (1859), Belfast (1859.1860,1861) and Leeds (1862-1865). During this period Napoleon also set up a studio in Birmingham(1862-1866). The Birmingham studio was established on 31st March 1862 by Napoleon in partnership with Samuel William Hill and Robert White Thrupp. 22 

Oliver's permanent base in Scarborough was established in 1857 in Alfred Street and in 1858 he had a brand new purpose built studio designed by local architects John and David Petch and built it in an area which would later be known as Sarony Square on the South Cliff, now simply named Oliver Street. 

In Newcastle

A Studio was opened at 69 Blacket Street, Newcastle in late 1857 and it was the intention of working this until the beginning of June 1858 when Oliver would return to Scarborough. A gallery of portraits was exhibited at the studio as well as at Mr Turners and Mr Hays.23  He announced that he had secured the services of several artists and was offering portraits finished in water colours or sepia to resemble the finest paintings on ivory or the best mezzotints. Stereoscopes and views were also on offer in great variety on glass or paper. 24 

By March the studio was proving a success and the portraits originally hung in the gallery were replaced by those of local residents of Newcastle and thereabouts giving a very different feel to the studio. In fact these were the heads and members of well known families. The Newcastle Courant reported 9th March that they believed that ‘Mr Sarony’s portraits will stand in every respect in just rivalship to the one produced by Dickinson of New Bond Street’ Both sets of portraits had been exhibited at the local conversatione of the Literary and Philosophical Society 25 . At this point Sarony and the Dickensons may have been regarded as rivals but later they would become business partners.

On the 15th May Oliver announced his new patented process which prevented the usual distortion or enlargement of a figure, Patent no 725 dated 5th April 1858. 25 . With this new process he had not only created a way of improving his portraits but also a unique selling point which differentiated him from his rivals.  The tone of his advertising also began to change and instead of describing his studio as simply ‘Portrait rooms’ his business was promoted to ‘Photographic Establishment’ 69 Blacket Street, Newcastle. By Royal Letters Patent. As he was reaching the end of his stay in Newcastle he announced that he would be returning to Scarborough on the 1st June. During his itinerant years and in this case also the announcement of imminent closure was perhaps a way of encouraging those on the edge of a decision to have their portrait taken to quickly make their mind up otherwise Sarony would be off to his next destination.

The method of distortion free portraits was described in the Mechanic’s Magazine issue 69 1858. It was a way of using two or more negatives to produce a positive portrait. The first negative is taken which includes the head and neck of the sitter and then a second is taken in which the head and neck are sacrificed in order to get a true representation of the shape of the lower body. If the hands are in advance of the figure then a third may be taken by moving the camera further back. A positive picture was then produced using the first negative of head and neck, stopping out the hands and other parts of the body, and then the second negative, and so on until a true representation of the figure was produced. But ‘Lux’ whoever he might have been, had something to say about Sarony’s new patent. His letter to the magazine was also published. How could a ‘patent hold good’ when the technique of using multiple negatives had been in use by several persons for a number of years. ‘This system has been in use for many years. The first description of it, I remember appeared in the Photographic Journal September 21st 1855, by Berwich and Annan; it has been carried out very successfully by Mr Rejlander, Mr Robinson and others, as you are well aware’ Lux goes on to say that the process could be used to put an old head on a young shoulders the head being taken from one person and the body from another. ‘It is related that Zeuxis, some two thousand years ago, painted his famous picture of Helena from five of the most beautiful virgins the town of Cratona could afford, uniting all the most admirable parts in one single figure and Zeuxis was right, but it was pushing ideality, too far, to make a photographic representation of one person from various models and patent it’ But the editor thought that Lux’s insinuation that Mr Sarony proposed using negatives from more than one person to produce the final picture was ill-meant and unfounded, there was nothing in the patent about using more than one person he said. However by printing such an article in the magazine it may just have planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the readers and they may have looked upon Sarony's portraits quite differently from thereon.

As mentioned above it was at this stage that Thomas Carrick became involved in the business. 

In Ireland - Dublin and Belfast

The 1859 winter season was spent in Dublin and in Belfast. The first studio in St Stephens Green, Dublin was open in February 1859 and a display of Thomas Carrick’s work which had won great acclaim from the press was presented to the public.

The Freemans Journal of 12th February reported that  Mr Sarony, Photographer to Her Majesty, 6 Stephens Green North, Dublin had opened a gallery which was displaying new works on photographic basis by Thomas Carrick, the eminent miniaturist of London, who had gained a worldwide reputation. One of the galleries was devoted to life size portraits. 

The article goes on to say that Sarony had an unrivalled collection of portraits which could not fail to strike the visitor with their masterly style of execution, purity of colouring and exquisite delicacy of finish. 'These pictures have been formed upon a photographic basis in each instance and then completed by the pencil of Thomas Carrick'.  'The collection which is large and varied comprises likenesses of many distinguished individuals all of which are calculated to attract and rivet admiring attraction not alone as portraits of wondrous fidelity, but also as works of art of a unique and splendid character, We understand that Mr Sarony is now engaged in the production of a number of portraits (single figures and groups) ordered by distinguished families in Dublin and its vicinity'

A second studio was opened a few months later in April at 12 ½ Bridge Street, Belfast. It would appear that both studios were operating at the same time as advertisements featured both addresses 26 .  The Belfast studio appears to have been on the second floor of the building and was sublet from a James Alexander  Henderson 27  who was proprietor of the Belfast Newsletter's General Book and Job Printing establishment at 10-12 Bridge Street. 28  The choice of these premises was a very shrewd move by Oliver, with him being in such close proximity to the newspaper offices he would have had chance to get to know the people there and build a relationship with Alexander and his staff and based upon the amount of publicity he did receive it certainly proved to be a good move.

At the end of the first season in Belfast the studio closed on the 9th July so Oliver could return to Scarborough, but he had such a huge response from the public that he said he would return the following year. 29 

True to his word Oliver returned in January 1860 for the second season in Ireland. His studio at Bridge Street Belfast was opened again and he took up residence at 19 College Street. 30 Mrs Sarony was also living at this address. There is mention of her in a court case of another women in May 1860. 31 There must have been some delays in delivering the portraits during the first season but to avoid any delay in finishing the portraits during the second season he had brought with him his staff of artists. 32 

Wellington Crossing the Pyrenees

In March 1860 a painting entitled Wellington Crossing the Pyrenees by Thomas Barker was put on display at Mr Magills Fine Art Repository in Donegal Place, Belfast. Oliver had started an Art Union style lottery and the painting was to be the first prize. For a subscription of one guinea the subscriber would also get their own portrait taken by Sarony (usual cost one guinea) and if they didn’t win the first prize they would also have a chance of winning one of a 100 line engravings most of which were of the Barker painting. It was the intention to sell one thousand tickets and by January 1861 several hundred had been sold. The painting had been purchased by Oliver from Messrs Turner of Newcastle for £750, they had commissioned Thomas Barker to paint it and Greatbach and Wallis produced the line engraving. 33  The painting had previously been hung in the Wellington Gallery at the Sarony studio in Scarborough.

In December 1860 the third winter season in Belfast began with Oliver announcing that several important improvements in the art of photography had been introduced since his last visit. 34  He also published an impressive list of ‘fashionable and distinguished personages’ whose portraits (life size pictures and miniatures) had been exhibited at the Sarony and Dickinson’s Scarborough studio. It seems therefore that Oliver had now formed a new partnership with Messrs Dickinson of New Bond Street, London, The Dickinsons brothers. Prior to this the Dickinson brothers had been operating in Scarborough in their own right 35  but by 1860 both parties must have thought it advantageous for them to work together. The list of portraits referred to may well have been a mix of portraits produced by both Sarony and the Dickinsons. Bringing a list of patrons from both studios together would certainly have created a greater impact and perhaps this was just one of the reasons behind the partnership, but the fact that Oliver was advertising several improvements in the art of photography may have also meant that some of these had been introduced by the Dickinsons. It is interesting to see that the list included Titus Salt Esq, Bradford and family, even though Titus was at the bottom of the list. That being said he did get his name printed in bold so perhaps Oliver was saving the best till last.

By the end of February Sarony’s time in Belfast was drawing to a close and he placed great emphasis on the fact that the public had little time left in order to get their portraits taken. ‘This will be positively be the last season in which an opportunity will be afforded of having portraits taken in Belfast by Mr Sarony . We have no doubt that, crowded as the portrait rooms generally are, this positive announcement will cause many who are hesitating and waiting for another occasion to take advantage of the short period that remains before the season closes. The number of card portraits taken in the last weeks has been enormous. Nothing can exceed the beauty and gracefulness of those charming little works of art. No one should be without them.’ The card portraits referred to would have been Carte De Visites.

In anticipation for his departure from Belfast he wrote to the Belfast newsletter and announced that he and his brother would be shortly leaving for Egypt 36  There is some evidence that Napoleon may have actually been in Belfast at this time.  If this was the case did Napoleon spend the whole season there or did he just visit just prior to their departure for Egypt? During the research for this article no other accounts could be found that showed Napoleon in Belfast and yet the Belfast newsletter reported on the 13th April that they had yesterday an opportunity of seeing in the studio of Napoleon Sarony, College Street, a portrait on stone of the Rev John Bleckley, the excellent and estimable Presbyterian clergyman of Monaghan, Ireland. Napoleon of course had a great deal of experience in producing portraits on stone during his lithographic days in New York but there is no evidence that Oliver had such experience.. College street was where Oliver was living according to the Adaire's Belfast Directory. Was this a mistake by the newspaper, probably not, as the Belfast Newsletter staff knew Oliver well enough and they knew where his studio was. Also on the 12th of March another report mentions Napoleon Sarony having just completed a portrait of Mr Collins, one of Christy’s Minstrels. Why should the newspaper apparently report quite randomly on this event if Napoleon had nothing to do with Belfast.  So it is possible that Napoleon stayed with Oliver in Belfast for a period prior to their departure for Egypt and because both the Dublin and Belfast studios were open at the same time that Oliver may have well took charge of one and Napoleon the other.

It was anticipated that Oliver would be winding up his studio in May 1861 but he decided to stay a while longer and conducted the draw for his art union prize in Belfast on the 20th June 1861 . The winner was Hampton Macnamara with winning ticket number 399.

When Oliver departed Belfast his studio was taken over by Magill. Oliver left his team of artists there and ‘his very superior appliances’ along with Mr Siggins ‘whom will devolve the very important duty of sitting those who had patronised the establishment’. 37 Siggins had worked for Oliver for some time. Later in July Magill wound up the studio at Bridge Street and moved it back to his premises in Donegall Place 38 

In Leeds

The partnership between Oliver and the Dickinson brothers continued and they opened a studio on the 10th February 1862 at 15 Park Place, Leeds. 39  The property was described as a large house previously occupied by a Mr Uppleby. The rooms were opened with an exhibition of pictures including ones of the Royal Family and many of the peerage and aristocracy of England. The pictures also included a life size portrait of Titus Salt and a graphic painting of the destructive storm at Scarborough, presumably the one by Paul Marny that Oliver had commissioned.

The studio were promoting portraits from the Carte De Visite type to the highest class ivory miniatures and full length portraits in oil.  They were also promoting Sarony’s method of distortion free portraits which involved a ‘costly’ piece of apparatus. 40  This new method must have made a significant improvement over the old method as they offered to retake previous portraits that had been executed in Scarborough using the new method ‘without extra charge’ The studio was also built to accommodate equestrian portraits for which they perceived there was a demand. Equestrian portraits meaning ladies or gents on horseback.


Three portraits are shown here, all with the same painted backdrop and all three taken during the period when Oliver had his Leeds studio, so they could well be from Leeds and would date from 1862-1865. The lady in the centre and the gent on the right are most probably husband and wife as they appeared in the same album and the studio props are practically in the same position.  

During the first season in Leeds which was from February through to September 1862 the studio was being promoted extensively in the local press including the Leeds Times, Leeds Mercury and the Leeds Intelligencer. The adverts appeared alongside those of  other local photographers including  James Harrison 172 Woodhouse Lane, William Hanson 18 Park Row and Peter Paul Skeolan 14 Commercial Street. There were also many other photographers in the town including  Edmund Wormald, John William Ramsden, William Child, Henry Allinson, John Berry Boden, Edward Boot, Charles Henry Braithwaite, Tom Harper, Huggon, Joseph Navey, and more. So there was no shortage of competition and Oliver had to set himself apart from the others. His distortion free portraits using his new apparatus and the 40ft studio that he had built, the offer of equestrian portraits and the fact that he had introduced a method of taking eight portraits on a single plate shortening the time the sitter had to spend in the studio all featured heavily in his advertising.

The studio continued to advertise until September 1862 when there was a period of inactivity, but there is no specific mention of the studio closing for the winter. No advertising appeared from October through to January of 1863.

Sarony photographer to the queen
On the 10th January 1863 the second season in Leeds began and an advertisement was placed in the Leeds Mercury from Messrs Sarony and Dickinson, Photographers to the Queen (of Scarborough and New Bond Street London) It announced the reopening of their studio and gallery of fine art at 15 Park Place, Leeds. Opening for a short season having to open their Scarborough studio in May 1863. Besides the Queen other patrons were mentioned including HRH Princess Beatrice, Lord Palmerston, and several Earls. The idea of advertising high profile patrons continued through to December 1864 especially in a series of advertisements which were placed in the Huddersfield Chronicle.

From June 1863 through to January 1864 the studio must have closed again and in January 1864 the third season in Leeds began and a large feature advertisement was placed in the Leeds Mercury on the 30th January 1864, This time the list of patrons was much longer and included Earls, Countesses, Lords, Ladies, Knights of the Realm, and a Bishop, a Dean and a Reverend. But there was no mention of any Industrialists, MPs, or Mayors. The Dickinson name does not feature in this advertisement and didn't appear again so we can only assume that the partnership had ceased sometime between May 1863 and January 1864.

The reverse of one of Sarony's carte de visites is shown here with reference to Sarony being 'Photographer to the Queen' and being in Scarborough and Leeds. It can safely be assumed that this was produced in 1864 or 1865. 

Included in the advertisement of the 30th January 1864 there were newspaper reviews and references to Oliver’s patents. The patents were the prevention of distortion patent dated April 5th 1858 and Sarony’s process for superseding Ivory dated 5th July 1858, a process suitable for the production of broaches, bracelets and lockets.  The Morning Post had this to say. “One peculiarity observable in Mr Sarony’s portraits is that by some process of his own he gets rid of the distorting effect of the camera and preserves the relative proportions of the figure” Another from the Photographic News dated June 26th 1863 “We have a striking illustration before us of the art of photography, it consists of a portrait of a lady by Mr Sarony, and another of the same lady by another person, the latter presents a somewhat common place, coarse, plain looking woman, the former a pleasing, graceful portrait of a lady. One is angular hard and square, the other is soft, delicate and pleasing, if not beautiful” 

J J Hobbiss Late Sarony
In April 1865 Oliver sold the Leeds business to John James Hobbiss who had worked for him for several years and as reported by the Leeds Mercury 22nd April 1865 had the entire management of the practical department of the Sarony studios in Leeds and in Scarborough. The newspaper says that Oliver ‘ Disposed of the entire interest in the business to Mr J J Hobbiss’ and in the same article Oliver gives J J a glowing reference and his full support for the continuation of the Leeds business. So the business continued to operate in Leeds and advertise its offerings including ‘the new Diamond Cameo Portrait, the much admired Trio, the Universal Couplet, the Medallion, the Bijou and the Carte de Visite in the usual superior quality’ 41

Prior to the takeover the 1861 census shows J J  Hobbiss living in York midway between Leeds and Scarborough. His birth place was Birmingham. The 1851 census shows him to be a glass painters apprentice and in the Birmingham directory of 1858 he is working as a Photographic Artist. His father John Snr. was a glass and china merchant. It would appear that he operated from 107 New Street and his business is listed as Glass Painters, Stained, Guilders and Benders. Unfortunately John Snr's business ran into serious trouble in 1858 and John Snr was sent to the Warwick Gaol for bad debts.41a  This in fact could have coincided with the date that J J went to work for Sarony. The Sarony link with Birmingham and the decision by Napoleon Sarony to open a studio at New Street Birmingham in 1862 may have well been a result of the Hobbiss connection.

So after the handover J J Hobbiss was operating in his own right from 15 Park Place from April 1865, but he didn’t stay at this address for long, by July 1866 he made a move to 1 Commercial Street, Leeds a property that had previously been occupied by the Midland Banking Company 42 43  He operated from Commercial Street until May of 1870 when he must have decided to move again placing an advertisement in the Leeds Mercury for his ‘lock up shop’ in a ‘thickly populated district’ of Leeds, for a rent of £15 per year. By August presumably having disposed of his shop he moved to the corner of Portland Crescent and Great George Street renting some rooms from Alfred Aldred an Iron Ore Merchant. This was very close to where Edmund Wormald’s had his studio. Hobbiss advertised that he was working from Great George Street offering Carte de Visites from 6s per dozen, 44 but he must have already made the decision to sell up and move out of Leeds because only a few days later an auction was held by Messrs Hepper & Sons at Hobbiss’s rooms in Great George Street and the entire contents of a house and the stock in trade of John Hobbiss was sold ‘under the authority of a bill of sale in the hands of Mr Sarony, of Scarborough’. 45  This suggests that Oliver Sarony still owned the stock or that Hobbiss perhaps owed him money. Maybe Oliver had let Hobbiss take over his Leeds studio in 1865 with all its equipment without actually paying for it in full, despite having said previously that he had disposed of his entire interest in the business.

The  'stock in trade' consisted of a mahogany top counter, ditto pedestal office desk, with ground glass partition on top; an enlarging camera and lens complete by Harvey, Grubb's Carte lens No1, 15in by 15 in expanding camera with bellows body, magnesium lamp with Dalmeyer lens, a solar camera with lenses and reflectors complete, printing presses, rolling press for cartes, oak Archimedian camera stand, Admiralty barometer, large screen with scenic backgrounds, about 20,000 negatives, chiefly local subjects; chairs and other appliances of the studio; a considerable quantity of portrait and landscape mounts, frames, and cases; elegant carved frames for the wall and table; a number of portraits in oil and water colour and photography of inhabitants of Leeds and the neighbourhood, a large photograph of Tetley's Rifle Corps, elegant mother of pearl and other albums, and a great accumulation of miscellaneous items belonging to the business of a practical photographer.

On the 3rd December 1870 photographer Edmund Wormald announced that he had bought the negatives of J J Hobbiss. Further research will be required to determine if this also included the negatives taken by Sarony when he was operating in Leeds. 46

In Birmingham

Hill and Thrupp ran a print sellers business from 66, New Street Birmingham and on the 31st March 1862 they built a new photographic gallery and studio and established a partnership with Napoleon Sarony. The photographic side of the business operated under the name Sarony, Hill and Thrupp until February 1863 when Hill left the partnership 47  and the photographic business was renamed Sarony & Co. The business continued until June 1866 when Napoleon announced that he was returning to America. His negatives were bought by Thrupp 48  who continued to run the studio under the name Robert W Thrupp. The loss of Napoleon must have been a blow to the business not only was his name and reputation lost but the skills of Sarony were also gone. Thrupp soon appointed Mr Bernasconi the son of an Italian sculpture for his artistic input and retained the services of Mr Henneman who had previously been engaged with Mayall and Monsieur Silvy. 49 

During his time in Birmingham Napoleon and his second wife Louise Thomas (portrait 1861 by Camille Silvy) who was 24 years younger than Napoleon had their first and only child together Isabella Louise Sarony b 1864. Isabella or Bella as she was sometimes called returned to America with Napoleon and his wife, but his first three daughters, Ida b 1843, Jenny (Jane)  b1852 and Mary b1854 by his first wife Ellen Major (1829-1858) stayed on in England living in Scarborough. Ida was to marry John Francis Leighton in 1868, Jenny married Samuel Waind Fisher in 1877 and Mary married William Henry Fry an Irishman from Dublin and a portrait painter. Napoleon also had a son Otto Sarony b 1850. The only evidence that can be found of Otto being in Birmingham is a reference to him recalling stories from under the skylight in the Birmingham studio, 50   

Series of eight photographs by Napoleon Sarony
Mini Palmer by Napoleon Sarony
In February 1867  the Royal Photographic Societies Journal Vol 11 page 211 reported on the monthly meeting of the North London Photographic Association. Mr Sarony had submitted an album of photographs in the style  which he described as ‘crayon photographs’ Mr How explained that the photographs were obtained by a system of double printing one advantage of this method being that it permitted new and pleasing pictures to be produced from old stock negatives’. 

Mr Haes at the request of the chairman J J King described the glass room in which the charming pictures of Mr Sarony had been produced. He said since these seemed to be universally admitted to be the models of perfect lighting and a description of the studio would doubtless be interesting to members. “The studio was that of Napoleon Sarony, but had been designed by Mr Oliver Sarony. The first glance at it would surprise most photographers. It was not long enough to take a card with No.2 B lens, except by placing sitter and camera diagonally. It had no blinds, and there was no necessity for modifying the light in any way. The only thing in the shape of a blind was employed over head when the sitter happened to be bald. It was of a lean to shape with a northern aspect, with plenty of light from that direction, but hemmed in by walls and houses in both directions…. The studio was 26 feet long by 10 ft wide. The pitch of the roof was less than 45%, it was all glass in the roof and northern side, the other side and each end opaque and well sheltered. Mr Robinson said that it was the kind of lighting he always preferred and found most convenient and effective. But he also said, and this is quite puzzling ‘He could not, with propriety, praise the pictures produced in it at present, as it now belonged to his brother; but he could state that the lighting was most excellent’  So was the album of photographs by Oliver or by Napoleon and was the studio being referred to in Birmingham or in Scarborough. The most likely explanation going by the date of the article is that it was the Birmingham studio that was being referred to and that since Napoleon had already returned to New York  Mr Robinson must have thought the studio had been taken over by Oliver when all the evidence shows it was actually taken over by Robert Thrupp.

Saronys Rest
The series of eight images shown on the left was produced on a single plate by the Sarony Studio c1866. The subject was Adah Isaacs Menken as a huntress. You will notice that at the top of the series of photos there are the words Sarony's Photographic Studies No16. This was one of at least thirty studies that were produced to promote Oliver Sarony's Rest and Chair which he had patented in 1856 and sold in the United States for $100. The photos show off the range of poses which could be achieved by using the rest. An advertisement in the book "The Negative and Print" by John Towler published in 1866 carries an advertisement promoting the apparatus. It also details the other photos that were produced in Sarony's Photographic Studies including two of Sarony himself and one of Paul Marny. It does not state if the Sarony portraits were of Napoleon or Oliver. Looking at the subjects that were taken it may well be that the photos were actually taken in England, in Birmingham or in Scarborough. Other examples that can be found online are No11 Miss Tilly and No12 Menken in a French Spy. One wonders if the studies of Sarony No 2 and No 15 have actually survived.

The portrait on right is a portrait of Minnie Palmer taken in New York its just an example of how adding colour to what would have been quite a plain photograph can bring it to life. The colourist is not known but the detail in Miss Palmers hair shows that they had great skill. Minnie Palmer was not one of Napoleon Sarony's most famous sitters but nevertheless a very nice image.

Sarony and Dickinson's Patrons

The Scarborough studio

Marine Court of New York City, Petitions for Naturalization
2 Hull Packet 24th June 1842
3 Leeds Intelligencer 16th April 1842
4 Early Leeds Photography 1839-1870
6 Chancery Proceedings (1843) C14/45/B115 Public Records Office London
7 A Faithful Likeness by Bernard and Pauline Heathcote
7a Bradford Observer 21st June 1849
7b Bradford Observer 25th January 1849
7c Bradford Observer 12th September 1844
7d Bradford Observer 15th May 1845
Elizabeth Sarony's Marriage Certificate
9 York Herald 25th Jan 1851
10 Emma Laura Lancaster Pt1 by Marjorie Williams
11 Huddersfield Chronicle 28th May 1853
12 Lincolnshire Chronicle 12th Aug 1853
13 Lincolnshire Chronicle 30th Sept 1853
14 Lincolnshire Chronicle 24th March 1854
15 Cambridge Independent News 9th Sept 1854
16 Cambridge Independent Press 2nd Dec 1854
19 Newcastle Journal 13th March 1858
20 Worcester Chronicle 24th June 1857
21 Newcastle Journal 21 Aug 1858
22 Birmingham Journal 29th March 1862
23 Newcastle Journal 26th Dec 1857
24 Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury  26th Dec 1857
25 Newcastle Journal 15th May 1858
26 Belfast Newsletter 8th April 1859
27 Griffins Valuation 1848-1864
28 Belfast Newsletter 11th Feb 1860
29 Belfast Newsletter 14th July 1859
30 Belfast Newsletter 30th January 1860
31 Belfast Newsletter 28th May 1860
32 Belfast Newsletter 3rd Feb 1860
33 Belfast Newsletter 8th Mar 1860
34 Belfast Newsletter 7th Dec 1860
35 Oliver Sarony 1820-1879 by Anne and Paul Bayliss
36 Belfast Newsletter 23rd March 1861
37 Belfast Newsletter 21st June 1861
38 Belfast newsletter 9th July 1861
39 Leeds Intelligencer 1st Feb 1862 
40 Leeds Intelligencer 22 March 1862
41 Leeds Intelligencer 24th June 1865
41a Birmingham Journal 23rd Oct 1858
42 Leeds Times 28th July 1866
43 Leeds Times 22nd Sept 1866
44 Leeds Times 5th Nov 1870
45 Leeds Times 21st Jan 1871
46 Leeds Mercury 3rd Dec 1870
47 Perry's Bankrupt Gazzette 28th Feb 1863
48 Birmingham Gazzette 23 Jun 1866
49 Birmingham Gazette 29th Sept 1866