Holme Cultram, Cumberland, England 1824 – Sonoma County, California, United States of America 1904

Family group 1858 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, ambrotype, colour dyes Support: original ebonite frame
Place Published: Sydney

Primary Insc: ND
Tertiary Insc: Label adhered verso" From/T.S/.Glasiter's/photographic rooms/100 Pitt St/near the Victoria Theatre/Sydney" [Glaister moved from 100 Pitt to 247 1858/9]
Dimensions: printed image 14.8 h x 19.8 w cm Frame 31.4 h x 36.6 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1983
Accession No: NGA 83.1161
Subject: Portrait: family
  • After its introduction in Australia in 1842, portrait photography was quickly adopted as a valuable means of recording history in the colony. It was considered to be a true-to-life copy of a person, providing a record for future generations. It presented the prosperity and social standing of the sitters, as well as recording life in the new land.

    In the 1850s, the American Thomas Glaister ran the most accomplished and ambitious portrait studio in Sydney. He was noted for the large size of some of his portraits, as in this elaborately framed group. Only a small number of citizens could afford expensive Glaister portraits such as the one seen here. It is a large coloured ambrotype, which is a negative on glass backed with black to make it a positive image. This unknown family is very much on show, recording their image and material success in society for posterity. It seems strange indeed then that their descendants have parted from their heirloom.

    Gael Newton

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002