The Riva Schiavoni Annan, James Craig  (Scottish, 1864-1946)

When his father died in 1887, Annan took over and continued to successfully run the family business, but about 1890 he grew restless and began to follow his own, artistic interests in the medium. He was particularly drawn to photography’s ability to render mood and atmosphere, as in this photograph. In it, Annan has employed his expertise in photogravure to subdue the edges of the figures in the foreground and unify the tonal character of the entire image in order to effect a stronger and more unified composition. The dynamic disintegration of form verging on the abstract is reminiscent of the paintings of James MacNeill Whistler—one of Annan’s favorite artists. While photography had achieved a technical sophistication that allowed photographers to produce highly resolved, realistic images, many chose to pursue soft-focus effects rather than detail and precision. Annan was particularly fascinated by photography’s ability to render mood and atmosphere, essential qualities in Whistler’s work, through the manipulation of the tonal character of the image. He considered atmosphere an important element in photography: ‘in judging an ordinary photograph; he declared in 1892, ‘one of the chief points to be considered is, to what extent the feeling of atmosphere has been introduced into it.’

Annan did not receive any formal artistic training, instead studying chemistry and natural philosophy prior to becoming involved in photography. When his father secured the British patent rights in 1893, Annan was sent to Vienna to learn the technique of ‘heliogravure’ or photogravure from Karel Klíc. In the spring of 1892 Annan visited the Netherlands with his etcher-engraver-friend, Sir David Young Cameron, who certainly influenced Annan’s ‘pictorial photography’. Annan also associated with other contemporary Glasgow painters and etchers, including Muirhead Bone and William Strang.  In 1894 Annan and Cameron traveled to Italy and visited Venice, resulting in Annan’s Venice and Lombardy, a folio of 11 photogravures (etched and printed from copperplates), published in 1896. In an interview conducted in the same year Annan cited Japanese Art, Velasquez and Whistler as major influences. The works Annan produced in Venice testify to his deep regard for Whistler’s aesthetic principles. Through Annan, Whistler ultimately exerted a powerful influence upon other photographers, such as Stieglitz and Alvin Langdon Coburn.

Since the early nineties James Craig Annan had been one of the chief forces in the development of pictorial photography. This portfolio of prints is his masterpiece. Limited to an edition of 75, the eleven plates include some of Annan’s most sophisticated and celebrated early work. The small photogravures masterfully etched and printed by Annan himself on Japan tissue and individually signed explore for the first time the instantaneous moments accessible only to the camera combined with the control, art and craft of traditional etching.

Reproduced / Exhibited

Buchanan, William, and J C. Annan. The Art of the Photographer: J. Craig Annan, 1864-1946. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1992. plate 7.


Buchanan, William. J. Craig Annan: Selected Texts and Bibliography. Oxford: Clio Press, 1994. fig. 9. P. 8 and p 83

Bologna, Gabriella, The Aesthetics of British Photography. A Case Study: James Craig Annan’s Portfolio Venice and Lombardy in Anon. 2013. Aesthetic Lives : ‘New Experiences New Subjects of Poetry New Forms of Art’. High Wycombe Bucks England: Rivendale Press