Albert Smith (1816-1860)

Silvy, Camille-Léon-Louis1850/1859

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The author, journalist, mountaineer and public speaker Albert Richard Smith (1816-1860) made his name during the 1850s from the enormously popular entertainments he gave charting his travels abroad. In 1850 he gave a comic lecture at Willis's Rooms, King Street, London, about the overland route to India entitled 'The Overland Mail' with illustrations by the scene designer William Beverley. His account of his 1851 ascent of Mont Blanc which he recounted at the Egyptian Hall in London, on a stage resembling a Swiss chalet, really captured the public's imagination with its mixture of comic monologue and panoramic illustration. It opened in 1852 and ran for six years, during which time he made a fortune from the show and the merchandise associated with it. This photograph was taken by the acclaimed French photographer Camille Silvy (1834-1910) who specialised in exquisite cartes-de-visite photographs and worked from a studio in Porchester Terrace, Hyde Park from 1859 to 1869, where he at one time employed as many as 40 assistants.

Photography was a novel and exciting development in Victorian days. Most actors and actresses had studio photographs taken, in everyday dress or theatrical costume, for ‘cartes de visite’, and later ‘cabinet cards’. Both were albumen prints made from glass negatives, attached to stiff card backing printed with the photographer’s name.

‘Cartes de visite’, the size of formal visiting cards, were patented in 1854 and produced in their millions during the 1860s when it became fashionable to collect them. Their subjects included scenic views, tourist attractions and works of art, as well as portraits. They were superseded in the late 1870s by the larger and sturdier ‘cabinet cards’ whose popularity waned in turn during the 1890s in favour of postcards and studio portraits.

This photograph comes from a large collection of ‘cartes de visite’ and ‘cabinet cards’ removed from their backings and mounted in albums by Guy Tristram Little (d.1953) who bequeathed them to the V&A. A collector of greetings cards, games and photographs, Guy Little was a partner in the legal firm Messrs Milles Jennings White & Foster, and the solicitor and executor of Mrs. Gabrielle Enthoven, whose theatrical collection formed the basis of the Theatre Collections at the V&A.

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  • Title: Albert Smith (1816-1860)
  • Creator: Silvy, Camille-Léon-Louis
  • Date Created: 1850/1859
  • Location: London
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 85 mm, Width: 57 mm
  • Provenance: Bequeathed by Guy Little
  • Medium: Sepia photograph on paper