Frederick Hollyer and the V&A

Photograph of Sir Aston Webb by Frederick Hollyer, about 1890, platinum print. Museum no. 7752-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photograph of Sir Aston Webb by Frederick Hollyer, about 1890, platinum print. Museum no. 7752-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Frederick Hollyer had a professional relationship with the V&A that spanned approximately 30 years. According to Museum records, he was in correspondence with curators in the Department of Science and Art at the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria & Albert Museum) between 1898 and 1927. Hollyer would keep curators abreast of the latest exhibitions of his reproductive photographs, send them sales catalogues and receive them at his Pembroke Street studio. He would also sell his work to the Museum at a generous discount of 10-25%.

The Museum bought Hollyer's reproductions of paintings, especially those taken during various stages of development, for teaching purposes. In 1911 a curator justified the purchase of 100 photographs of paintings by G.F. Watts with the following words: 'These are important for students, as they exemplify the manner in which Watts used to alter and amend his compositions before they reached their final condition'. 'It may be added', he continued, 'that the photographs are platinotypes and are therefore permanent'. This belief in the permanency and superiority of platinum prints over their silver-based counterparts also informed the Museum's decision to buy Hollyer's work.

The V&A granted Hollyer permission to photograph and sell reproductions of paintings in the collection. In August 1911 Burne-Jones's painting Merlin and Nimue was 'placed in a good light' so Hollyer could photograph it. He was allowed to do this on the condition that, in return, he gave the Museum two copies of each of the photographs taken.

Eleanor M. Hollyer (1872-1968), Hollyer's youngest child and only daughter, continued the relationship that her father had established with the V&A. In addition to the three albums of portraits, which she gave to the Museum in 1938, she bequeathed St Simeon Stylites, a drawing by William Burges, in a will dated 1945. When asked 20 years later whether she still wished to give this piece to the V&A, Eleanor replied,

'Of course the V&A should have the Burges. I always meant it so. It is a good one. The V&A I know to be interested in the Pre-Raphaelites, which the Fitzwilliam is not'.

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