Special Collections - Photographic Collections
Cabinet portrait photograph, 3 7/8x5 5/8 inches (9.8x14.3 cm), the image masked to oval, photographer's credit printed to mount, small loss to corner of mount, not affecting image.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), lecturer, author, biographer of Thomas Cromwell and Frederick the Great, sat for portraits by G. F. Watts and Julia Margaret Cameron among others. He had a distinctive physical presence from a young age.; by the time he attended Edinburgh University in November 1809 he was a thin adolescent almost 6 feet tall. He was much photographed by professional London studios for popular carte-de-visite photographs, but this late family group takes an unusual and considerably less formal approach. He is seen here in his old age, still stylish, in his trademark long heavy coat and wide-brimmed hat, his elegant bony hand grasping a clay pipe. His brother, John Aitken, was known in the family as Jack, or as Lord Moon because of the shape of his face (ODNB), which is clearly still chubbier than that of his brother's in later years. John died in 1879 and Thomas spent the Summer of 1878 in Scotland, so it seems likely this portrait was made during that visit.
Mary Aitken, Thomas' niece, spent over 10 years looking after her uncle after the death of his wife, Jane. After his death she and his biographer, James Anthony Froude' sharply disagreed about how best to serve Carlyle's posthumous reputation, a series of publications brought light to claims and counter-claims about Carlyle's personality and his treatment to his wife. The Froude-Carlyle controversy, as it was called, damaged Carlyle's reputation among the late Victorians' (Oxford DNB).
John Rettie took over the studio of John Patrick, at Wemyssfield, Kirckaldy, in 1884 and remained active as a portrait photographer until his death in 1925.
Format / media
Image courtesy of University of St Andrews Library.
Free of known copyright restrictions. Image supply fees may still apply.
Image Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library, ID EPM-CC-1