Fading Away Robinson, Henry Peach  (British, 1830-1901)

This wood engraving reproduces a famous pictorial photograph constructed by Henry Peach Robinson in 1858. To portray the peaceful death of a young girl surrounded by her grieving family, Robinson skillfully combined five different negatives. Although imaginary, many contemporaries criticized the subject as too painful to be tastefully rendered by such a literal medium as photography. The controversy made Robinson the most famous photographer in England and a leader of the Pictorialist movement which advocated painterly effects. Wood engravings played a crucial part in circulating images in the nineteenth century, as part of popular weekly journals such as the "Illustrated London News." (Met)

Artists looked on photography as merely a dull means of recording uninteresting facts, ‘willfully mistaking the instrument for the man, and always asserting that a photograph could have no influence on the feelings and on the emotions, that it had no soul’. Robinson sought to demonstrate the falsity of such views. His first composition ‘Fading Away’ made up from five negatives, was ‘calculated to excite painful emotions’ – and Robinson fully succeeded in his intention. While Rejlander’s ‘Two Ways of Life’ was objected to by some for ‘appealing to the passions’, ‘Fading Away’, which represented a ‘dying’ girl surrounded by her grieving mother, sister, and fiancé, was criticized for its morbid sentiment’. The controversy which the picture aroused had a flattering effect upon the fortunes of its author. Prince Albert, who had a large collection of photographs, gave Robinson fortunes of its author. Prince Albert, who had a large collection of photographs gave Robinson a standing order for a copy of every pictorial photograph he produced. Gernsheim, Helmut. The History of Photography: The Age of Collodion. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. P. 40