But is art? Photography in the dock in 1880

mw56848

Photography was still a fairly new science in 1880. The world’s first photograph was possibly that made in 1826 using Joseph Nicephore Niepce’s ‘Heliograph’. In 1835 Niepce collaborated with Louis Daguerre to create the first practical application (the ‘daguerrotype’) that, in 1839, led to the very first ‘selfie’ by Robert Cornelius. Improvements followed in 1871 (with dry plate photography) and then in the mid 1880s with the invention of the earliest ‘box’ portable camera.

It seems that along with the self-portrait early adopters of photography quickly recognized the commercial potential of a technology that could make multiple reproductions of popular images.

As many of us probably do when we visit an art gallery early photographers realized that taking photos of artworks could be profitable if cheap prints of them could then be sold. Even better if those prints were of human nudes.

It is not surprising perhaps that one of the early uses of photography was in the creation of more realistic pornography (or ‘erotica’ if you prefer a less judgmental term).

I’m sure Charles Newbold would have argued that his collection of photographic images were a form of art. Sadly for him he couldn’t, as in November 1880 he was locked up in Coldbath Fields prison serving a three-month sentence for ‘selling photographs of an immoral nature’.

While his son occupied his days in hard labour his father George found himself up before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court on a very similar charge. He was summoned to answer as to why a series of photographic images that had been seized by the police should not be destroyed.

His lawyer, Mr Geoghegan, argued that the images – which were taken from works of art – were not offensive and were in fact very useful for students of art to learn from. This was one of the first ways in which daguerreotypes had been used – to reproduce famous artworks in a form that students could learn from. These could black and white or coloured, like the shown here (right). Nude_woman_in_colored_daguerreotype_by_Félix-Jacques_Moulin

Coloured daguerreotype by Félix-Jacques Moulin, c.1851-1854

The police – represented by Mr St John Wontner – argued that they were obscene and constituted an assault on public morals. The Newbold brothers owned a shop where the materials were on sale, located in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square.

The justice, Mr Mansfield decided that he needed to see the pictures for himself if he was to determine how ‘immoral’ they were. He adjourned the case to make his investigations.

George Newbold was an established sporting photographer in the 1860s. Based at 303 and 304 The Strand, Newbold seems to have specialized in taking images of boxers for them to use as their carte de visites, and the V&A has several of these. However, George died in 1865 and the business passed to his brother Charles, and his two sons (George Francis and Charles).  It is possible then that Charles and his sons  had branched out into more ‘racy’ photos by early 1880s, but perhaps they were simply providing a legitimate service for artists short of live models.

In 1880 Charles junior (at 19) was listed as a ‘porter’ in his prison record, which hardly suggests that he was a successful photographic artist. His father was also in prison by August 1882 where his record states that he was a bookseller. His crime? Tried at the Middlesex Quarter sessions and convicted of:

maliciously and scandalously selling and uttering to frank froest, in an open and public shop, certain lewd and obscene photographic prints’.

His sentence? 18 months imprisonment. He was 50 and so would have been in his 30s in the 1860s when he was taking shots of boxers and others. It seems a shame that the relatives of a such  a talented artist as George Newbold  should find themselves locked up for selling ‘dirty pictures’. But perhaps that reflected the reality that photography was not an easy profession to make a living from in the late 1800s. And, of course, that there was (and still is) money to be made from erotica.

[from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, November 6, 1880]

Pay your bills young man, or face the consequences!

3-tailor-19th-century-granger

On Saturday 8 October 1853 Henry Julian, a young ‘gentleman’, took delivery a new suit of clothes. He had ordered a week earlier, from Thomas Dando’s tailor’s shop close to the Blackfriars Road.  He was quite specific in his instructions; the suit was to be in black as he needed to go to a funeral.

As soon as Dando’s shop lad arrived at Julian’s home on Stamford Street he handed the bundle over and waited while his customer tried them on. Julian came down dressed in his new suit and immediately declared that he was unhappy. They weren’t to his satisfaction and so he wouldn’t be paying Dando’s bill, which was £5 8s (or around £450 today).

In that case, the boy said, he would have to take them back as his master had told him not to leave the goods without receiving full payment. Julian again refused. He needed the suit as the funeral was that day. He instructed the lad to return to Dando and tell him he’d pay the bill within six months; like many middle class and wealthier people in the 1800s he was demanding credit.

Having said his piece he placed a hat on his head, escorted the young lad off his property, and set off for the funeral, closely followed by the boy. The route Julian took went directly past Dando’s shop on Charlotte Street, off Blackfriars Road.

Thomans Dando saw him coming and his lad behind and perceived something was wrong. He stepped out and pulled the young man into his shop and demanded to know what was going on. Julian repeated his desire to enter into a credit arrangement and again refused to pay cash there and then.

Dando was furious and seizing his customer by the collar marched him to the nearest constable, demanding he be arrested for fraud. The local police duly obliged and later that day he was set in the dock at Southwark Police court where Mr Combe remanded him in custody. He was taken down to the cells, his new suit swapped for prison clothes and he was left to reflect on his actions for a few days.

On the 11thhe was back in court, wearing his prison outfit and facing Mr. Combe’s interrogation.

Having been reapprised of the details of the case the magistrate was told that Dando no longer wished to press charges. He’d got his property back and as far as he was concerned that was that. Mr Combe now told the prisoner that he was free to go but warned him that he might not be so lucky next time. However, he would have to return the prison clothes he was wearing and, since he could hardly walk naked through the streets, the gaoler would accompany him back to his home at 110 Stamford Street to affect the exchange.

One can imagine the shame he now experienced; walking through the streets of Southwark, dressed in prison garb, like a penitent in sackcloth, while all his neighbours watched. The message to the reading public was clear: settle your bills, especially if you shop at Thomas Dando’s!

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, October 12, 1853]

Artists models raise an old lady’s hackles in 19th-century Fitzrovia

model

Sarah Gibbons was an elderly resident of Charlotte Street, in what is known as Fitzrovia. Today it would be a smart London address, in the 1880s it was less genteel, but an area much frequented by artists. and Bohemians.

Sarah was in dispute with her neighbours across the road who she saw as noisy and disreputable. On the 8th May 1885 things had reached a point where she could stand it no longer and she left her house and crossed the road to number 98. There she was conformed by her nemesis, the much younger Maggie Jennings.

When she saw Sarah the younger woman called inside to her ‘creatures’ (as Sarah later described them in the Marlborough Street Police Court), who came running out into the hallway.

According to Sarah they then assaulted her violently:

Maggie ‘and another woman, rushed out of the room and struck her, scratched her, and tore her bonnet, and it was with difficulty that she stopped herself from going headlong into the the kitchen below’. Sarah told the sitting justice that Jennings and orchestrated the attack, calling on her friends to join in.

Where was the landlord in all this, she was asked. He was present but Sarah had no immediate blame for him in this instance, however she clearly held him responsible for  keeping the sort of house he did. She declared that she would happily have ”jumped him’ if she had been able, drawing laughter from the court.

Miss Jennings’ solicitor denied the facts as presented and said his client had been the victim not the aggressor. The court was told that Miss Jennings was an artist’s model with a ‘good connection’. Indeed, ‘ladies’ went there to have drawing classes and several artists regally called on the women who lived there, in a professional capacity. It may have been the noise these men made that caused Mrs Gibbons such consternation he suggested, but it wasn’t his client or her friends that were to blame.

The landlord also appeared and spoke up for his tenants, describing them as ‘respectable’ models and adding that it was indeed Sarah Gibbons who had landed the first blow in this fight, not Maggie.

This infuriated the old lady even further and throwing up her hands she made to leave the courtroom. ‘Models indeed!’ she exclaimed. ‘Do they take models in the dark?’, suggesting perhaps that while the men did have  professional relationship with the women, it wasn’t one based on the pure practice of ‘art’, but prostitution. This would have opened the landlord up to a possible charge of running a brothel or at least an unruly house and so the magistrate adjourned the hearing to wait for the report of the policeman that had attended to the assault incident.

A couple of days later the court reconvened the case and a police inspector reported that he had visited the property. He, and PC French who had responded to the disturbance on the 8th, both testified that ‘all the inmates were respectable persons’.

Mr Cooke, the magistrate, now turned his attention to Sarah Gibbons. He told that he was going to dismiss the charge because she had no right to have entered the property in the first place. If she wished to bring a complaint then she should have proceeded through the proper channels, and not taken the law into her own hands.

As she opened her mouth to say something the justice shut her up, and said ‘he would not hear any more’. Maggie Jennings was free to go, without a stain on her character and this verdict was met ‘with loud applause’ from those in court.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, May 25, 1885; The Morning Post , Wednesday, May 27, 1885]