Sarah Angelina ACLAND (1849–1930)
10 Park Town, Oxford
Sarah Acland with her dog Chum in c.1910. The plate of the
photograph is held in the Museum of the History of Science
Sarah Acland was one of the most important photographers of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, especially notable as a pioneer of colour photography. She was the only daughter of Henry Wentworth Dyke Acland, later Regius Professor of Medicine, and his wife Sarah, née Cotton. The Acland children were close friends of Alice Liddell and her sisters, daughters of the Dean of Christ Church and, like them, were photographed by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). From 1862 Sarah was schooled with cousins at Killerton in Devon, the seat of her uncle Thomas Dyke Acland, the 11th Baronet, and later transferred to the fashionable Mayfield girls’ school in London. She joined the newly founded Oxford School of Art where she was taught by Alexander Macdonald and John Ruskin and knew the Pre-Raphaelite artists. Ruskin lodged with the Aclands at 39–41 Broad Street during his first two years as Slade Professor and Sarah maintained a close friendship with him for many years, assisting with correspondence and publications.
Her father gave her a camera, a Kodak no. 3, when she was 42. She rapidly progressed to more sophisticated cameras, constantly exploring new possibilities.
In the 1890s she produced some breathtaking portrait studies of many great figures who visited the Acland household, such as Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, Ruskin, Henry George Liddell, and of people from all sections of Oxford society. She joined the Oxford Camera Club as the first woman to do so.
Left: Photograph by Sarah Acland of John Ruskin and her father Sir Henry Acland. She took this photograph on 1 August 1893 in the grounds of Brantwood, Ruskin's home on Lake Coniston
In 1900 she experimented with the new Sanger Shepherd colour process in which three separate exposures were taken through red, green, and blue filters before being combined as cyan, magenta, and yellow prints. Lantern slides of her colour photographs, especially those taken in Gibraltar in 1903 and 1904, made a great impact when exhibited at the Camera Club and at the Royal Photographic Society and were hailed as a breakthrough for the travelling amateur photographer. She was a regular exhibitor at the RPS and was made a Fellow of the Society in 1905. She went on to experiment with the Lumière Autochrome system and other newly emerging processes and cameras, producing vibrant colour plates of flowers and landscapes on Madeira where she spent six months of every year 1908–1915. After 1913 she preferred the Paget colour process. A collection of her remarkable colour photographs is held at the Museum of the History Science in Oxford. Her monochrome studies and papers are kept in the Bodleian.
On the death of her mother in 1878, she ran the busy Broad Street household until her father’s death in 1901. She was also active in charitable work, for example in raising funds for the cabmen’s shelter in the Broad, and for many years was secretary of the Acland Home for nurses, founded in memory of her mother.
From 1901 she made her home at Clevedon House, now 10 Park Town (above), where she died in 1930.
- Sources: Sarah Angelina Acland: first lady of colour photography (2012) by Giles Hudson; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Giles Hudson
The plaque ceremony was held at 10 Park Town, Oxford, on 24 July 2016. The speaker was Dr Michael Pritchard FRPS, Director-General of the Royal Photographic Society. Among those attending were Lt-Col Sir Guy Acland, Bt, the Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford, photographic historians, and residents of Park Town.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board