Alfred Tennyson from the photograph by John Mayall Mayall, J. P.  (British, 1810-1901)

This was Tennyson’s favourite photograph of himself. It was taken by Mayall, probably at Tennyson’s home on the Isle of Wight in 1864. Mayall visited twice that year in April and October.

J.P. Mayall was born near Manchester as Jabez Meal. After Travelling to America and making a name for himself as John Jabez Edwin Mayall, he returned to England and ran a studio on Regent Street, London. Mayall’s photographs of Queen Victoria’s royal family sold 60,000 carte-de-visite in the first week. Photographic portraits of the famous were becoming important features of the Victorian home. Mayall became one of the best known commercial photographers.

The 1864 image of Tennyson was widely used in publicizing the poet and his work. That year, Tennyson’s Enoch Arden was published and proved popular. The image was published in Mayall’s Photographic Portraits of Eminent and Illustrious Persons.

Mayall also used this image and Tennyson’s popularity to publicize his own photographic work. In 1865, it was exhibited in the Dublin International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures. Mayall exhibited a series of seven versions, varying in size from the carte-de-visite to life size, aptly called ‘heroic’. From one small negative, he had achieved enlargements that were identical in proportion with no loss of detail.

The photograph was exhibited again in March 1866 at Mayall’s rooms in Regent Street. This time coloured versions of the image were included. Mayall held a patent for an artificial ivory. This could be painted to appear very similar to the oil-painted miniatures of the early 19th century which photography had by now all but replaced.

The photograph appears to have had positive results for both the photographer and the poet. Tennyson’s favourite photograph of himself achieved good reactions from the popular press. The Athenaeum in 1865 described it, We have never seen the Laureate’s noble face more nobly rendered than in these impressions.