Sunday, June 10, 2007

Clifford & Nevin's cartes: tints versus daubs

PHOTOGRAPHERS Samuel CLIFFORD and Thomas J. NEVIN, Tasmania 1860s

"Clifford & Nevin Hobart Town"
The bright touch of colour highlighting the girl's posy or sprig of holly on a sepia toned carte-de-visite is a common attribute of Thomas J. Nevin's early portraits of private citizens. Another two portraits with the same red and green sprig show a young man named William Maguire in one (held at the TMAG and State Library of Tasmania) and in another of a baby stamped verso with Nevin's Royal Arms government contractor warrant (Lucy Bachelor Private Collection). The verso of this carte of a teenage girl bears the handwritten inscription of "Clifford & Nevin Hobart Town."

Hand coloured carte-de-visite, full length of teenage girl
Photographers Clifford and Nevin, ca late 1860s
Verso of above: handwritten inscription Clifford & Nevin Hobart Town
Copyright © The Private Collection of G.T. Harrisson 2006

Another portrait bearing the same Clifford & Nevin inscription (below) appears on the verso of the heavily tinted carte of a young man standing next to a chair:

Hand coloured carte-de-visite, full length of young man and kitchen chair
Scans courtesy © The Private Collection of John and Robyn McCullagh 2005 ARR

A third cdv bearing the inscription "Clifford & Nevin, Hobart Town" is held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. The handwriting, which may well be Thomas Nevin's or Samuel Clifford's, varies slightly from carte to carte.

This example of the handwritten inscription appears on the verso of a carte depicting two men (below) held at the QVMAG and reprinted in Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (TMAG, 1995, page 34). The writer/editor assumed that the subjects in the image were the photographers Samuel Clifford and Thomas Nevin because of the handwritten inscription of their names on the verso, but several cdv's with the same inscription are extant, including the one (above) from the McCullagh Collection of the young man with left hand on a kitchen chair. Neither man in this photograph is Thomas J. Nevin or Samuel Clifford. The red and violet colouring is abundant, and not the work of either photographer.

Hand-coloured cdv of two men, one standing, one sitting
Clifford and Nevin Hobart Town signed verso, QVMAG Collection

These two images may seem to differ in provenance but not in the strange red blobs arranged in vertical lines leading straight from the bottom of the frame and up the carpet, defying conventional perspective. Both probably originated from the same family in northern Tasmania, both daubed by the same person. This one of the two men was purchased by the QVMAG in 1978. The cdv of the young man with his hand on a kitchen chair belongs to a northern Tasmanian private collector.

Neither man pictured is photographer Thomas Nevin or his brother Constable John (aka Jack) Nevin, nor their father John Nevin snr. None of these cdv's was ever held in the family collections of Thomas Nevin's descendants, and none was coloured in this way by Nevin or any of his family. The cdv of the two men was recently exhibited at the QVMAG and published in the catalogue The Painted Portrait Photograph in Tasmania (John McPhee 2007).

Page 63, cdv of two men with Clifford & Nevin Hobart Town handwritten on verso,
Exhibited at the QVMAG, The Painted Portrait Photograph in Tasmania, November 2007-March 2008.
Photos copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009 ARR

Page 62 - the text accompanying the photograph in the exhibition catalogue The Painted Portrait Photograph in Tasmania (McPhee, QVMAG 2007).

The first paragraph in the accompanying text gives no factual information. The identities of the men may be unknown, but the tall man standing on the left closely resembles an officer at Port Arthur and member of the officers' cricket team, photographed by Alfred Bock ca 1864 when Thomas Nevin was assisting Bock. If so, Nevin's association with Samuel Clifford would also date to the early sixties, and place him with Clifford at Port Arthur ca. 1865 or earlier. Several stereographs of the buildings there are dated to ca 1865 with Clifford's attribution (Archives Office of Tasmania). Nevin's skills in stereographic production were certainly learnt from Clifford rather than from Bock.

The third paragraph too assumes the relationship with Samuel Clifford was brief and transitory and dated to 1870, which was not the case. When Thomas Nevin advertised his retirement from commercial photography (to take up his appointment as a civil servant whose duties included rendering photographic services at the Town Hall and Police Office) in the Hobart Mercury, 17th January, 1876, Samuel Clifford announced in the same advertisement that he had acquired Nevin's negatives and would reprint them for Nevin's private clients on request. Clifford had not ceased practice in 1873, therefore, as most commentators have assumed, and many extant prints with Samuel Clifford's stamp or attribution are likely to be reprints from Nevin's negatives. When Clifford sold his stock to the Anson brothers in 1878, they reprinted the negatives of both Nevin and Clifford, and those same negatives were reprinted again when John Watt Beattie acquired the Anson brothers' studio in 1892.

Above: Samuel Clifford's advertisement in the Mercury January 17th 1876, advising he had acquired Nevin's negatives.

The second paragraph assumes the colouring to be the work of the studio colourist, which was not the case. The colouring was the work of the purchaser of the cdv, probably by a child, and not by either photographer's studio. What has happened here is the inclusion of this carte into a category devised by the exhibition curator called The Photographer's Studio (p.54 of the catalogue), where all other items in the category are deemed to have been coloured before sale. By such means and comparisons the commentary on this one photograph attributed to Clifford and Nevin (p.63) would like to suggest - and not without derision- the childish daubs to be the amateurish work of the junior partner Nevin. The museum's accession records would have shown McPhee that the colouring in this photograph, as in the others listed here which have the same strange daubs, all share provenance from a northern Tasmania family, not related to the photographers, who purchased and then coloured them. This scenario, it seems, never occurred to the exhibitors.

On board the "City of Hobart" 31st January 1872