Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions
Anna Atkins (British, 1799–1871)
Image: 25.3 x 20 cm (9 15/16 x 7 7/8 in.) each
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005
Not on view
The first book to be photographically printed and illustrated, Photographs of British Algae was published in fascicles beginning in 1843 and is a landmark in the history of photography. Using specimens she collected herself or received from other amateur scientists, Atkins made the plates by placing wet algae directly on light-sensitized paper and exposing the paper to sunlight. In the 1840s, the study of algae was just beginning to be systematized in Britain, and Atkins based her nomenclature on William Harvey's unillustrated Manual of British Algae (1841), labeling each plate in her own hand. Although artistic expression was not her primary goal, Atkins was sensitive to the visual appeal of these "flowers of the sea" and arranged her specimens on the page in imaginative and elegant compositions. Uniting rational science with art, Photographs of British Algae is an ambitious and effective book composed entirely of cyanotypes, a process invented in 1842 by Sir John Herschel and long used by architects to duplicate their line drawings as blueprints.
Inscription: Cyanotype inscription by Atkins; Captions identify each specimen; Cyanotype inscription included in text: "To my dearest Father this attempt is affectionately inscribed."; Paper label ex libris pasted on inside of cover: "Phillip B. Mason, No. 2055"
[...]; Philip B. Mason; [...]; (Pescheteau-Badin, Godeau et Leroy sale, April 14, 1998, lot 100); [Hans P. Kraus, Jr., Inc.]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, April 9, 1998
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sight Unseen: Photographs from the Gilman Collection".
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Surface Tension," September 15, 2009–March 15, 2010.