Thursday, July 5, 2012


All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852-1860, on view from October 17, 2004 through January 2, 2005 at the National Gallery of Art , presented 91 works by the groundbreaking 19th-century photographer. It was the first exhibition of Fenton's work in this country in more than 15 years.

All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852-1860, was on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, February 1 through April 24, 2005, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 24 through August 21, 2005. The exhibition also traveled to Tate Britain, London, where it was on view from September 21, 2005 through January 2, 2006. The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

One of the most important 19th-century photographers, Roger Fenton exerted a profound influence on the medium despite the fact that his career lasted only eleven years. All the Mighty World, the exhibition title, is a phrase from Wordsworth's poem about Tintern Abbey, where Fenton frequently photographed, and where the poet declared himself a lover "of all that we behold/from this green earth; of all the mighty world/or eye and ear, both what they half-create,/and what they perceive." These lines echo the reverence for nature evident in Fenton's photographs and also reveal his great ambition for both his own photographs and the medium itself.

Born in 1819, the grandson of a wealthy industrialist, Fenton set aside his law studies in the early 1840s to become a painter. After studying with Michel-Martin Drölling in Paris, he returned to London and worked with Charles Lucy, a member of the Royal Academy. By 1852, however, he had made his first photographs and become an important force in English photography.

In the first few years of his career he helped to found the Photographic Society (which later became the Royal Photographic Society) and made landscape and architectural views that evidenced such great technical ability and aesthetic refinement that his work came to the attention of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Commissioned by Thomas Agnew and with letters of introduction from Prince Albert, Fenton traveled to Balaclava (in present-day southern Ukraine) to document the Crimean War. Because his project was a commercial venture, one designed to produce a portfolio of photographs of heroes of the war, his photographs generally present a positive view of the campaign.

The exhibition included portraits of generals who led the armies, such as General Bosquet (1855),

as well as the picturesque and exotic individuals who populated the region, as in Group of Croat Chiefs (1855). But he also photographed the soldiers who bore the brunt of the fighting, and their ravaged faces demonstrate the war's true toll.

On his return to England, Fenton made ambitious studies of the English countryside, its cathedrals, country houses, and landscape. Traveling throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, he photographed historic sites such as Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Isle, as well as numerous cathedrals, such as Ely, Salisbury, and Lichfield, and country houses such as Harewood House.

While several of Fenton's photographs on display were distinguished by their evocative depictions of light, atmosphere, and place, others demonstrate his deep appreciation of the solidity, permanence, and integrity of English architecture.

The exhibition also included his portraits of the royal family, a series of still lifes, and studies of figures in Oriental costume, such as Reclining Odalisque (1858)

and Pasha and Bayadere (1858).

As his career progressed, Fenton pushed himself to tackle ever greater challenges, for example, striving to photograph clouds and the landscape using only one negative or interiors of darkly-lit cathedrals, difficult technical problems at the time.

Some of his last compositions, as demonstrated by The Queen's Target, No. 56 (1860)

and The Long Walk, Windsor (1860) are radically simplified and daringly bold.

For reasons still unknown, Fenton sold all of his equipment and negatives at an auction in November 1862 and resigned from the Royal Photographic Society. He died seven years later at the age of 50.

Lenders to the exhibition include: the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford, England; the Royal Library, Windsor Castle; the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; the Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York; The J. Paul Getty Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum and The British Museum, London; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and private collections in the United States and Europe.


The curators of the exhibition werre Sarah Greenough, curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge, department of photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Gordon Baldwin, associate curator at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.


The exhibition was accompanied by a major catalogue with essays by the three organizing curators, as well as other leading Fenton scholars. All the Mighty World: The Photographs of Roger Fenton, 1852-1860 was published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, and The J. Paul Getty Museum, in association with Yale University Press (320 pp., 85 tritone and 50 duotone illustrations).


Roger Fenton Self Portrait, ca. 1854 albumen silver print, 19.5 x 14.7 cm (7 11/16 x 5 13/16) Private collection, London

Roger Fenton (Self-Portrait) February 1852, albumen silver print 12.2 x 9 cm (4 13/16 x 3 9/16 in.) Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York



Roger Fenton’s photographs of the Crimean War:

Both of the images above are from the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and were digitally cleaned and enlarged by Dennis Purcell.

Lots more info and images