Sophie Blackall Illustration

Drawings and Snippets and Breaking News, (but more snippets than breaking news).

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Obsession with the Bucolic Backgrounds in Old Photographs











The pictures above were swiped from cabinetcardgallery and luminouslint but I have my own large collection of 19th century studio portrait photographs (which I was too lazy to scan). Some of the sitters are identified on the back but most of them are strangers with enigmatic expressions and fantastic whiskers and enviable posture. I haven't always treated these strangers with complete respect, if you know what I mean, but I'm very fond of them and they're not around to object.
Recently though, I've become obsessed with the artificial bucolic background scenes, especially when you see a bit of skirting board or a carpet sneaking in. I have become determined to paint such a scene on my farmhouse living room wall and photograph everyone who comes to visit in front of it. It will be a fine excuse to buy props. Boxing gloves and monocles and medicine balls and a brace of pheasants.
I went searching for information about photography studio backgrounds and thought I'd paste some snippets here.
It makes sense, of course, but it was still a surprise to realize the backdrops were painted in black and white and not color.



The painting above is by Thomas Le Clear and I found it on Luminous Lint. There's a really nice story attached which doesn't have much to do with the background but is fascinating about the implications of photography on painting.
Caswell's Background Holder is good because, "It saves a sight of trouble to the busy operator" and "There is nothing about it that is liable to get out of order."

This above is one of the few examples I could find of a surviving intact backdrop. You can buy it for about $10,000 at www.installationsantiques.com.
Tempting, but I decided to paint my own. It's a work in progress, something to fit in between deadlines, but so...much...fun.

21 comments:

jackiebean said...

this is a really fun (and educational) post. i love learning about the little details like this in history. great background, too!

Anonymous said...

Oh, that's so beautiful. I want all my walls done now. By you. You could have a whole second career turning people's houses into the landscapes they'd like to live in.

Anonymous said...

We LOVE this landscape too!!
Mr. and Mrs. B

Beth HF said...

Love how in the first photo they have their backs turned....and how you can just up and paint a huge mural on one of your walls. I have too many "helpers" here:) I Enjoy your blog and your art.
Cheers,
Beth

flowerpress said...

Love it! I love old portrait photography. The historic houses trust has a great collection of mugshots, have you seen them? And I love the Disfarmer photos though he often didn't use a background. Love your wall in progress :-)
Susie

Lauren Castillo said...

So awesome! Nice work, Sophie :)

The Wanderers' Daughter said...

THis is so beautiful!! This just makes me happy all over.

deed said...

i, too, collect old photographs. love your idea to capture your visitors in front of your beautifully painted background.

Lara Meana said...

I wanna go and live in that landscape!!!

tmac said...

Great blog, and a great talent!

tmac

Jessica Deane said...

I am older than you, judging by your photograph of you painting, and so tend to be somewhat jealous and bitter, but I have to say, love your illustrations and the very cool and inspiring wall you are painting. Even though I am constantly pushing my own art I am going to try to follow your blog a bit. I work in a library, so I see your artwork everywhere, but didn't know it was you.

We Three 3 said...

this is something I never even thought about but found this so interesting. I love that the scenery holder is only $25. that's great:) Thank you for this post and love your mural, beautiful work!

nĂ  said...

What an exciting addition to a house! I love the idea of all visitors having their photo taken in front of it!

Ahipara Girl said...

your home walls are a great canvas. Just visited ur home over on Design Sponge and instantly connected with your eclectic collections. Ur quilt. Everything. This is an interesting post. The idea of a painted landscape for backgrounds in photographs is intriguing. A fantasy world created. Looking forward to seeing your walls come to life.

Rhonda Baker said...

I love the painting of the photographer's studio. It's a wonderful inside peek, just as this blog is a wonderful inside peek!
Me and my daughters are HUGE Ivy and Bean fans, and they will often get one out just to giggle at the perfect illustrations. "Say ten-four if you're ready!" "What?" - Ah, the expressions you create for them bring them to life. Thank you for your wonderful work. Your wall is awesome.

Laurie said...

I love that you are painting your walls with the scenery- I mean I really love it,and wish I had thought of it. How fun. :)

Chelsea said...

Wonderful, wonderful post! So interesting and well-researched.

RR said...

Doing some research on Thomas Le Clear and am interested in the back drop you mentioned....how do you know it is his back drop?
Thank you for a response.
Raylene Rieder

RR said...

I'm doing some research on Thomas Le Clear and your back drop is his? Is there a signature? How did you come across...? so many questions...well, just a few. Could you respond, please? I'd appreciate it so much.
Thank you,
Raylene Rieder

cheap prom dresses said...

I love ALL of the pictures, the earlier ones included. I love the exhausted look on the mother's face. Congrats on doing your own...I know well the difficulty of writing the book you've conceived as an illustrator. Hurrah!

Deanna Dahlsad said...

Just stumbled into your blog due to the recirculation of one of your photos (the first one with the women facing away from the camera -- our discussion is here) and wanted to mention a book about the backdrops in tintypes .