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Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925

Photogenic drawings of various objects / Bessie Parkes.

Physical Description:
1 album (18 photographs) ; album 20 x 17 cm
Rare Books and Manuscripts
TR144 .B4 1848
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
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Copyright Status:
Copyright Information
The daughter of an English radical lawyer, Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829-1925) emerged as an active feminist and a defender of the rights of women. She purchased The Englishwoman's Journal in 1858 and set out with Barbara Bodichon, her close friend, to inspire feminine ambition by relating the stories of professional women. Through this, she hoped to encourage higher education for women. In 1867, she married Louis Belloc and then spent most of her time in France until his death five years later. The two children they had both became well-known writers, Hilaire Belloc and Mrs. Belloc Lowndes. Bessie Rayner Parkes returned to Sussex after her husband's death and continued to publish.
In January 1847, temporarily removed from her beloved home near Westminster Abbey to Hastings (where it was hoped the climate would cure her brother Priestley), Parkes found herself with little to do. In a letter to Barbara Bodichon, she revealed that "I have been so busy with my photogenic paper. I have got some beautiful New Zealand Ferns my Uncle Swainson has sent over to Maura & am going to take impressions of some of them. Are your primroses really out?" A few days later she said that "I have been very busy with the photogenic paper lately, & have taken some very good impressions of New Zealand ferns. The washing is the greatest trouble. It is endless.". But she must have taken good care in her washing, for Parkes' photogenic drawings are well preserved. In November 1847, Parkes wrote to a schoolmate, Kate Jeavons, already expressing indignation at the constraints put on her sex: "I have been very much interested lately in photography, & send you some specimens of ferns & lace. The photogenic paper is easy to prepare but requires knack. If I had been a man I would have had such a laboratory." See: Letters dated 13 January 1847, 17 January 1847, and 11 November 1847, in BRP volumes 4, 1, and 51, Archives of Girton College, Cambridge.
This is the last known reference to Bessie's photographic work and it seems most likely that she experimented in photography for only the few months covered in these letters. Later descendants summarized what was known about how she spent her period at Hastings, recording that in "1847. Bessie reads Shakespeare -- reference to early photographs -- we have this album with these ferns and lace" (see note in the Archives of Girton College, Cambridge).
Title and statement of responsibility from title leaf.
Bound in quarter calf and marbled boards. Label on front pastedown: "Stephenson, Bookbinder, Parliament Street."
The images on leaves [2]-[7] and [15] are titled in ink below the photograph.
Hans P. Kraus, Jr. (Firm). Sun pictures. Catalogue ten. British paper negatives, 1839-1864, no. 14 (pages 36-41)
Album containing 18 photogenic drawing negatives and prints made by Bessie Rayner Parkes (later Belloc) in 1848, comprising eleven botanical specimens, four samples of lace, and a negative and print copy of a portrait engraving. Six studies are titled in ink on the album page. Also included is a salt print from Henry Wiggin and a loosely inserted fragment of photographic paper.
Parkes later utilized 41 of the blank pages as a manuscript diary of an 1859 visit to Antwerp and other continental cities. At the beginning, at least, the diary is written in the form of a letter to "Theodosia," presumably Theodosia Blacker, Lady Monson (1803-1891), the prominent promoter of women's rights.
Subject Terms:
Antwerp (Belgium) -- Description and travel.
Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829-1925 -- Diaries.
Bobbin lace.
Lace and lace making.
Monson, Theodosia, 1803-1891.
Women in natural history.
Photograph albums.
Salted paper prints.
Photogenic drawings (photographs)
Travel literature.
Wiggin, Henry, photographer.
IIIF Manifest:

  • [1] Title page inscribed in ink
  • [2] Salvia. Photogenic drawing negative, 15.4 x 11.2 cm
  • [3] Nasturtium. Photogenic drawing negative, 15.1 x 11.2 cm
  • [4] Lignum Vitae. Photogenic drawing negative, 15.3 x 11.3 cm
  • [5] Convolvulus. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.0 x 11.2 cm
  • [6] Rose. Photogenic drawing negative, 15.9 x 11.2 cm
  • [7] New Zealand Fern. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.3 x 10.8 cm
  • [8] Leaf specimen. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.3 x 11.4 cm
  • [9] Fern specimen. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.3 x 11.4 cm
  • [10] Two ribbons of Bucks point lace. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.0 x 11.2 cm
  • [11] Leaf specimen. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.4 x 11.5 cm
  • [12] Leaf specimen. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.3 x 11.3 cm
  • [13] Ribbons of lace (one Bucks point, one machine lace). Photogenic drawing negative, 16.2 x 11.4 cm
  • [14] Two ribbons of lace (drawn work, the ribbon at left with machine-made edge). Photogenic drawing negative, 15.8 x 11.4 cm
  • [15] "Bridge near Coventry. Executed & given to me by Mr. Henry Wiggin." Salt print from a paper negative, 8.8 x 10.5 cm
  • [16] Two ribbons of lace (duplicate of no. 14). Photogenic drawing negative, 16.0 x 11.4 cm. Partial blind stamp on recto
  • [17] Leaf specimen. Photogenic drawing negative, 16.5 x 12.5 cm
  • [18] Copy of a portrait engraving. Photogenic drawing negative, image 15.8 x 12.2 cm, on sheet 18.1 x 12.5 cm, trimmed irregularly
  • [19] Copy of a portrait engraving. Salt print from negative (see [18]), image 15.8 x 12.2 cm, on sheet 20.0 x 12.5 cm
  • [20, loosely inserted] Fragment of sensitized photographic paper, 11.4 x 5.8 cm.

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