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Frederick Hollyer: Celebrity Portraiture

Photograph of William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1884, platinum print. Museum no. 7715-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photograph of William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1884, platinum print. Museum no. 7715-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

'Portraits from life taken on Mondays only. Appointment advisable.'

Hollyer's work reflects the increasing interest in photographic portraits of celebrities. These portraits were circulated by the sitters to friends, family and colleagues, and also appeared in magazines and books. Previously, magazine articles had been illustrated with engravings, but with the advent of half-tone printing, photographs were used instead.

The artists that Hollyer photographed were a diverse group encompassing the Arts and Crafts Movement, Pre-Raphaelitism, Aestheticism, Impressionism and the Royal Academy. Sitters appear and re-appear in a variety of sittings and costumes, which suggests that Hollyer was shaping their public image.

William Morris, for examples, features in several portraits. Four are individual images and one a double portrait, in which he is shown out of doors with Edward Burne-Jones.

Hollyer also made a portrait of Morris's daughter May and group portraits of the Morris and Burne-Jones families. Another member of this circle, Walter Crane, the first President of the Arts and Crafts Society, poses with his head resting on his hand, gazing intently out at the viewer.

The self-fashioning of the 1890s dandy aesthete can also be seen in Hollyer's portraits. Here his sitters included the artist Aubrey Beardsley and the writer Richard Le Gallienne, who both produced work for the notorious Yellow Book.

Photograph of Anna Lea Merritt by Frederick Hollyer, 1886, platinum print. Museum no. 7791-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Photograph of Anna Lea Merritt by Frederick Hollyer, 1886, platinum print. Museum no. 7791-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A counterpoint to these are the five photographs of the famous actress Ellen Terry. In one image she stands in profile gazing at a framed image that is just beyond our view. The other eminent figures portrayed by Hollyer included the socialist Edward Carpenter, the Irish poet and playwright W.B. Yeats and the novelist Thomas Hardy.

Another fascinating aspect of the albums is that they show Hollyer's social circle. In 1892 he joined the Linked Ring Brotherhood, a group of photographers who wanted to distinguish their artistic work from scientific or commercial photography.

Members featuring in the Hollyer albums include Alfred Maskell (founder of the Brotherhood), George Davison (later managing director of Kodak in the UK), Alfred Horsely Hinton (photographer and critic), Henry Herschel Hay Cameron (rival portraitist and fine art copy photographer, son of Julia Margaret Cameron) and Baron Adolphe de Meyer. The dapper-looking de Meyer was an early fashion photographer.

Many of the photographs in the albums do not have an exact date, but the majority were taken in the 1880s and 1890s, and Hollyer continued working until his retirement in 1913.

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