William Notman (1826-1891), a forward thinker,
was a pioneer in the photomechanical reproduction of pictures for the press. This
printing innovation would pave the way for the explosion of visual culture that
came with the proliferation of photographs.
William Notman, Montreal, QC (1868/1868) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
William Notman a visionary photographer
Mrs. Lamson and Mrs. Stevenson, Montreal, QC (1881/1881) by Notman & SandhamMcCord Stewart Museum
William Notman (1826-1891) was Canada’s first internationally known photographer. The success of his business and the remarkable longevity of his Montreal studio – in operation from 1856 to 1935 – place him apart from other Canadian photographers and rank him among the greatest of his era.
The quality brand name of Wm. Notman & Son is associated with hundreds of thousands of fascinating portraits and landscapes that illustrate the birth of a new North American nation. The immense historical value of this corpus, produced by William Notman and a number of other photographers under his direction, is still being revealed.
Photography: An Increasingly Powerful Tool in
the Nineteenth-Century Press
Photographic Selections, Vol. I (1863/1863) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
From the 1850s on photographs would become an increasingly important source of press images on both sides of the Atlantic. (1)
Photographic images could be transposed line by line to engraved wood blocks compatible with letterpress printing, a process involving the use of relief characters. This essentially linear reproduction technique could not, however, render all the nuances of photographs, from the lightest to the darkest tones. (2)
The insertion into a publication of original prints offered a temporary solution to the problem of disseminating photographs on a large scale.
Fort Chambly, Chambly, QC. (1863/1863) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
In the 1860s, Notman produced books of original prints, (3) such as Photographic Selections, the first volume of which includes this picture of Fort Chambly. Over 200 photographs were commercially reproduced in this way.
Although original photographic prints were often published in books, they rarely appeared in the popular press.
Road scene, Lake of Two Mountains. Published in Photographic Selections by William Notman, Vol. I (1863/1863) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Mercury and Argus. Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. Published in Photographic Selections by William Notman, Vol. I (1863/1863) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
Notman’s first publication showcased the fine arts. Bound in two volumes, Photographic Selections presented photographs of paintings and engravings by some of the world’s great masters, along with works by American and Canadian artists popular at the time.
It was unusual, however, in also containing a number of landscape photographs – a clear declaration of Notman’s conviction that photography is the equal of painting.
Hunting Scenes in Canada. Published by William Notman (1866/1866) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
In 1866, Notman produced a series of nine photographs titled Cariboo Hunting, published in the album Hunting Scenes in Canada.
Cariboo Hunting, Going out (1866/1866) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
To show the steps in the caribou hunt, Notman created tableaux in his studio, using every imaginable artifice to sustain the illusion.
Cariboo Hunting, The Guide (1866/1866) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Cariboo Hunting, Game in sight (1866/1866) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Cariboo Hunting, The chance shot (1866/1866) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Cariboo Hunting, Returning (1866/1866) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
These pictures won him international recognition.
The First Photomechanically Illustrated News
Magazine: Notman on the Cover
Mr. William A. Leggo, Montreal, QC (1875/1875) by William Notman StudioMcCord Stewart Museum
At the dawn of Confederation (July 1, 1867), an alliance between three Canadians paved the way to a veritable revolution in the field of visual communications.
In 1869 the printer George-Édouard Desbarats (1838–1893) and his partner, the engraver and inventor William Augustus Leggo (1830–1915), published on the front page of the Canadian Illustrated News (1869–1883) a halftone reproduction of a photograph by William Notman of His Royal Highness Prince Arthur.
This printing of a photograph on a page bearing letterpress text was a world première – a technological feat accomplished a decade before the first halftone reproduction was published in the United States, the country generally credited with the innovation. (4)
George Edward Desbarats, Montreal, QC (About 1871) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
When George-Édouard Desbarats re-launched the Canadian Illustrated News, first published in Hamilton, Ontario, from 1862 to 1864, his aim was to make it an instrument of Canadian identity whose ideological vision would be defined by intellectuals and artists.
Published from October 1869 to the end of 1883, the sixteen-page weekly was distributed nationwide.
Desbarats was determined to counter the previous lack of an illustrated periodical focusing on Canada, but also to take full advantage of the didactic power of the image.
William Notman, photographer, Montreal, QC (1861/1861) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
To relaunch the Canadian Illustrated News in October 1869, a major coup was needed, and Desbarats and Leggo chose Notman, Canada’s preeminent photographer.
It was a time of great scientific and technical progress, and these men were cut from the same cloth as the Victorian entrepreneurs ever on the lookout for new technology in their fields. Notman, always ready to try out innovative ideas, was up for the challenge. Together, not only did they write the first page in the history of halftone engraving, but they also introduced photography to the press.
H. R. H. Prince Arthur. Published in Canadian Illustrated News. After a photograph by William Notman (I-41496) (October 30, 1869) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
On October 30, 1869, the first issue of the Canadian Illustrated News featured a portrait of Prince Arthur; some 10,000 copies were printed.
Until then, no newspaper had ever published a halftone photograph, one which reproduced many shades of grey. Halftone engraving was possible thanks to the combination of two inventions patented by Leggo and funded by Desbarats: leggotyping and granulated photography.
A Distinguished Party at Belmere. (July 23, 1870) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
Leggotyping was the first step towards halftone engraving. This photomechanical process could faithfully reproduce the lines of a picture and print it in relief at the same time as text on a letterpress.
Belmere. The residence of Hugh Allan, Esq., Lake Memphremagog. (July 23, 1870) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
In this technique, a glass negative of the photograph is coated with gelatine bichromate, which is sensitive to ultraviolet radiation. Areas exposed to light harden. From this plate a plaster mould is made, which is used to produce a copper plate. The process was patented internationally in 1865. (5)
Prize cups, Longueuil regatta, sept. 1871. (March 9, 1872) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
The second invention was granulated photography, for which Leggo was granted a patent on September 18, 1869. This process consists in exposing a glass negative onto a lined or dotted screen. That results in a halftone negative, meaning it is made up of small dots that create the illusion of shades of grey. The picture is then transposed to a copper plate, as in leggotyping.
Hon. John Rose. (1869/1869) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
The Canadian Illustrated News was the first publication to make successful commercial use of these inventions.
Hector L. Langevin, Montreal, QC (1865/1865) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Hector L. Langevin. (1865/1865) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
Other examples of leggotypes made from Notman photographs.
Prince Arthur (1850-1942), Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the third son of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), spent time in Montreal in 1869-1870 while completing his military training as a member of the Rifle Brigade. The visit aroused a great deal of interest throughout the young Canadian nation.
The prince was invited to sit for a portrait in William Notman’s studio on October 9, 1869. He would serve as governor general of Canada from 1911 to 1916.
Skating Carnival, Victoria Rink, Montreal, QC (1870/1870) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
To commemorate the skating party held on March 1, 1870, in honour of Prince Arthur, Notman produced this composite tableau, which includes over one hundred and fifty figures.
After responding to an advertisement Notman placed in the newspapers, the participants portrayed were photographed in the studio, in small groups or individually, wearing their costumes and skates.
The Carnival at the Skating Rink (May 21, 1870) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
These pictures were then cut out and pasted in a pre-designed arrangement onto a drawn background. The final stage was to photograph the collage and make prints in different formats.
Acclaimed when it was made and exhibited in London, Skating Carnival remained on view at the Notman studio in Montreal for sixty-five years.
Falls of the River du Loup, QC (1868/1868) by William Notman StudioMcCord Stewart Museum
Falls of the River du Loup, Below Quebec. (August 13, 1870) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
The Whitby Merryweather Steam Fire Engine, Which Saved the Town of Oshawa from Destruction by Fire on the Night of the 9th December, 1872. (January 4, 1873) by Eugene HabererMcCord Stewart Museum
On 17 September 1870 the editors of the Canadian Illustrated News announced that henceforth its illustrations would be printed using an improved process.
Once again, the Leggo-Desbarats duo was revolutionizing the pictorial press: the magazine became the first ever to be printed planographically, using the photolithographic process and not relief by leggotyping.
Halifax-Young Men's Christian Association Building. (May 8, 1875) by Eugene HabererMcCord Stewart Museum
With this new process, an image could be planographically printed by transferring it from a glass negative to a lithographic stone.
Photolithography was primarily used for line pictures, but in May 1871, the inventor Leggo pointed out, in a patent application adding improvements to his invention of granulated photography, that the halftone picture could be transposed to the stone by ink transfer. (6)
Pages consisting solely of text were still printed in relief using conventional typography. But as photolithography was not compatible with the letterpress, for illustrated pages the text had to be photographed and transferred together with the pictures to the stone.
The Pryor Crew of Halifax (September 16, 1871) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Between September 1871 and March 1872, 10 of Notman’s photographs were reproduced using the new process of photolithography. Of a higher quality than the portrait of Prince Arthur, these halftone images were enhanced with hand-drawn lines that added definition to the contours of the figures.
The Winship-Taylor (English) Crew. Published in Canadian Illustrated News. After a photograph by William Notman (1871/1871) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
The halftone of the photolithograph of this portrait of the winning crew at the Halifax rowing regatta was particularly successful.
Notman’s signature and the number of the photograph appear on the published picture.
Miss Rosa D'Erina, Montreal, QC (1872/1872) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Miss Rosa D'Erina. (March 16, 1872) by Rudolph H. ReinholdMcCord Stewart Museum
Other examples of photolithographs made from Notman photographs.
Statue of Old Trapper (1871/1871) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
The Canadian Trapper. (March 4, 1871) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
Hon. E. B. Wood, M. P., Treasurer of Ontario. (April 15, 1871) by William Augustus Leggo and William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Between October 1870 and July 1881, over 150 drawings traced “after a photograph by Notman” were also published as photolithographs. For the most part, these were portraits published in the magazine’s Canadian Portrait Gallery section.
The Late Rev. Hugh Urquhart, D. D. (February 25, 1871) by W. L.McCord Stewart Museum
It is likely that these highly precise illustrations were engraved on a glass plate superimposed on the picture to be copied.
Mr. Nathan, of British Columbia, Mover of the Address. (May 11, 1872) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
The resulting photolithographed images were evidently no longer “after nature,” but they reproduced Notman’s photographs far more accurately than those produced using the wood engraving technique.
Canadian Portrait Gallery section of the Canadian Illustrated News.
Honourable Mr. Ross, Montreal, QC (1867/1867) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
The late Hon. John Ross, Q. C. (March 4, 1871) by William Augustus Leggo and William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
Mass Dissemination of Photography
Garnet River Cascade, British Columbia. (March 7, 1872) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
Thanks to the innovations of Desbarats and Leggo, Notman’s work became part of the new era of modern photomechanical reproduction methods, which facilitated the large-scale copying and distribution of photographic images.
Of all Canadian photographers, Notman had the most pictures published in the Canadian Illustrated News. A total of 169 of his photographs were published photomechanically – and then reprinted in L’Opinion publique, the French version of the Canadian Illustrated News – which is about six times more than for the second-place photographer, William James Topley (1845–1930).
Notman photographs reprinted in L’Opinion Publique, the French version of the Canadian Illustrated News.
Mount Elephanta from Fern Hill, Lake Memphremagog, QC (1867/1867) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
View of Mount Elephanta, Lake Memphremagog. (July 24, 1879) by UnknownMcCord Stewart Museum
William Notman, photographer, Montreal, QC (1875/1875) by William NotmanMcCord Stewart Museum
The explorations of Desbarats and Leggo revolutionized the nineteenth-century press industry, but they also radically altered both the way illustrations were produced and the way they were received by readers. Visual communication has become a sine qua non of our culture, and it is Notman who must be credited with being the creator of the first photograph ever reproduced using printer’s ink. (7)
(1) Ralph Greenhill and Andrew Birrell, Canadian Photography, 1839-1920 (Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1979), p. 167; Thierry Gervais, ''L'illustration photographique : naissance du spectacle de l'information (1843-1914),'' (Ph.D. diss., Paris, Écoles des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2007). In this thesis, Gervais confirms the widespread use of wood engraving to reproduce photographs in the European press industry during the Second Empire period (1852-1870).
(2) Terresa McIntosh, ''W. A. Leggo and G. E. Desbarats: Canadian Pioneers in Photomechanical Reproduction,'' History of Photography, vol. 20, no. 2 (Summer 1996), p. 146.
(3) Stanley G. Triggs, William Notman: The Stamp of a Studio (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario/The Coach House Press, 1985), p. 26.
(4) Desbarats, Canadian Illustrated News, p. 4.
(5) W. A. Leggo & Cie, Un art nouveau, la leggo-typie : procédé photo-électrotypique (Ottawa, G. E. Desbarats, 1867).
(6) United States Patent Office, Improvement in Granulated Photographs, no. 115,489, 30 May 1871.
(7) Patrick Robertson, ''The First Halftone,'' Robertson's Book of Firsts: Who Did What for the First Time (New-York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011), n.p.
Hélène Samson, Curator, Photography
Christian Vachon, Head, Collection Management and Curator, Paintings, Prints and Drawings
Stéphanie Poisson, Manager, Digital Outreach, Collections
Chloé Chaspoul, Intern, Digital Outreach
Marilyn Aitken, Photograph
The Museum would like to thank all the Museum employees who have contributed towards the production of this exhibition.