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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Frederick Hollyer

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Other: Frederick H. Hollyer 
Dates:  1838 - 1933, 21 November
Active:  UK
Hollyer ran a thriving business both photographing works of art and as a portrait photographer. Both pursuits brought him into close contact with the Pre-Raphaelites like Edward Burne-Jones and writers such as Ruskin. Linked Ring Brotherhood.
[Contributed by Pam Roberts]

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Approved biography for Frederick Hollyer
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

'I found Mr. Frederick Hollyer, a sturdy, broad-shouldered, good-humoured and good-looking man of middle age, who comes nearer to the definition of artist-photographer than any other man in England.'
(Studio, 1893, page 193)
Born in London in 1837, Hollyer trained as a mezzotint engraver. He then took up photography and was elected as member of the Photographic Society of London in 1865. At this period Hollyer had a studio in Sunning Lodge, Bartholomew Villas, Kentish Town, where he made cartes-de-visite. He also photographed many sketches by the Jewish painter Simeon Solomon and met members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Aesthetic Movement.
In 1870 Hollyer moved to a studio in 9 Pembroke Square, Kensington. This was close to Holland Park, then the centre of an artistic circle that included the painters G.F. Watts and Lord Leighton.
Here Hollyer made photographic reproductions of paintings by Leighton, Watts and other leading artists. His other speciality became portrait photography, which took place on Mondays. For 30 years, beginning in 1882, artists, actors, journalists, doctors, scientists, clerics and debutantes arrived at his studio on Mondays to have their portraits taken.
In 1913 Hollyer retired, leaving his sons in charge of the business. A few years later, in 1920, he compiled three small albums of his portraits specially for his daughter. These are now in the V&A. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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Comments extracted from a short biography of Frederick Hollyer published on pages 153-154 of: The Linked Ring: The Secession in Photography: 1892-1910 by Margaret F. Harker: 1979: A Royal Photographic Society Publication.
"At an early age Frederick Hollyer became immersed in the art world and c.1860 was attracted to photography...As a relaxation Hollyer enjoyed photographing people and for some thirty years his studio was reserved mondays for this purpose only. His close association with leading artists through his main photographic practice led to his taking their portraits. Amonst those he photographed were D.G. Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, G.F. Watts, Frederick Leighton, William Morris, Walter Crane, Byam Shaw and John Ruskin. His portraits have rare and unusual qualities. He did not have to conform to the conventionalities of commercial studio portraiture so that most of his sitters were casually and naturally posed, unobtrusively lit, revealing in respect of character and characteristics, and refreshingly unretouched....Contemporary critics put Hollyer into the forefront of creative photographers: "From a fine Hollyer portrait you study the man as he is...these finely modelled heads, set so well in place as regards the decoration of a panel, are also transcripts of personalities-human documents of singular verity that should be amongst the prized treasures of future historians. It is quite possible that many a minor poet or secondary painter may attract the attention of the next century, merely because Mr. Hollyer photographed him." (Photograms of 1895) His own words go further to illuminate his work: "The one thing needful for photographers, if they are ever to take a position as artists, is general culture, which includes the study of the work of artists of all other classes. If every photographer would make a real study, for two or three years, of the hands of his sitters, portraiture would take an immense step forward. But the photographer must cease attempting to pose hands and make them pose themselves by giving them some congenial occupation...The photographer who has met a man half a dozen times should know with absolute certainty what is the most characteristic pose and lighting for his face...I think it would be a most useful thing, even from the business point of view, if every photographer would resolve that for every negative made for profit there should be another made for love. The greatest good of the Photographic Salon has been in showing that the best professional photographers could do some of the finest amateur work." from: The Photogram, 1899: "The Value of Studies. A few words with Frederick Hollyer", pp. 65-9.
Hollyer was an early member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood, having been elected on June 25th, 1892 and given the pseudonym of Sergeant at Mace.
Biography - Frederick Hollyer
With the kind permission of Peter Walker
Fred Hollyer photographed many paintings and drawings, especially amongst his close friends in the Pre-Raphaelite movement (Burne Jones, Rosetti etc) and G.F. Watts. His technique, known as the Platinotype (some even call it a Hollyertype), produced very high quality b/w renditions of paintings. When b/w drawings were photographed, the result could be indistinguishable from the original. These photographs helped the popularity of the Pre-Raphaelites and others, as it allowed reproduction in books and magazines and so brought them to a much wider audience.
Frederick (1837-1933), was the youngest son of Samuel Hollyer (1797-1883) who was a line engraver, fine art publisher, collector of water colours of the early English school and, until 1853, when the post was abolished, Deputy Sealer at the Court of Chancery.
Three of Samuel's sons emigrated to the USA. One of them, Samuel Jnr also became a notable engraver. Another son, Christopher, who remained in England, was also an engraver and artist. One of Samuel's daughters married the artist Bernard Evans.
Fred took up photography about 1860 and established a business in the photographic reproduction of works of art, notably the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites and the drawings of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. He became ranked as the greatest specialist in this field. As a relaxation he photographed people, and at his studio at 9 Pembroke Square, Kensington, Mondays were reserved for portraiture. Again, he became widely admired by his contemporaries for this work and photographed many well-known artists in their own surroundings during the 1890s and the Edwardian period. He was a member of the Photographic Society and the Linked Ring. His son, Frederick Thomas (b.1870), worked with him.
Internet resources
Victoria and Albert Museum - 'Photographers in Focus': Frederick Hollyer
Frederick Hollyer photographs at the V&A
Frederick Hollyer at the National Portrait Gallery. Has some pictures of Frederick's wife, son, daughter, sister-in-law and father/mother in law (not all attributed to Frederick). These come from an album of family photographs held by the NPG, which I assisted with the identification of the individuals.
Obituary - The Times
“Mr. Frederick Hollyer, who died on Tuesday at his eldest sons house at Blewbury, Berks, at the age of 95, deserves to be remembered as the pioneer in the artistic use of photography for reproducing pictures. Since his time the methods of such reproduction have been improved and standardized, but though they have gained in mechanical facility for extensive multiplication, it is questionable if there has not been some loss of quality. The two kinds of work, however, are not really comparable, for Hollyer stood to mass reproduction in the relation of the private press to commercial printing. The same virtues cannot be expected in the two kinds of work, and each has its own advantages.
Hollyer was the son of an engraver, and two of his brothers followed the same craft. His introduction to the work that was to make him famous was about 1860, when Simeon Solomon brought him in touch with the pre-Raphaelite group of painters. From that time Hollyer was closely associated with them, and he may be said to have done as much for their popularity by reproducing their work as Ruskin did with the pen. His modest premises in Pembroke Square, Kensington, became a place of pilgrimage for everybody who was in the aesthetic movement. With Burne-Jones, whom he met in the early seventies, and Watts, his collaboration - for it amounted to that - was particularly close. He photographed their work at different stages - the prints often suggesting modifications to the artists - and his collection of negatives must contain some interesting records of early states. Rossetti, Albert Moore, and Sir W.B. Richmond were other artists whose work was made familiar to the public through Hollyers reproductions. In workmanship he was extremely fastidious, giving personal attention to every stage of the process, so that the final result was not so much a photograph of a painting as a translation of its qualities into photographic terms. If memory can be trusted Hollyer did not himself experiment in colour reproduction, but the work has been carried on by his sons with very successful results in the cases of William Blake and Turner.”
Obituary - the Royal Photographic Society
“It is with much regret that we have to record the death of Mr. Frederick Hollyer, who passed away on November 21st last, after a few days illness, in his 96th year, at the residence of his eldest son, Mr. F. T. Hollyer, at Blewbury, Berks, where he had been living for the past two years.
Mr. Hollyer was the Society's senior member, he having joined it so long ago as 1865; his membership thus extended over a period of no less than sixty-eight years. He became a Fellow in 1895.
He was born in 1838 in Tavistock Place, London, [not true - he was born in Pentonville!] the youngest son of Samuel Hollyer, who was one time Assistant Sealer to the first Lord Brougham and a well-known art collector and publisher of engravings.
Beginning by taking portraits of his friends, he soon realised the possibilities of photography for the reproduction of works of art and was one of the first exponents in this now important branch of camera work.
In this connection he was associated with nearly all the leading artists from 1860 onwards including such well-known names as Rossetti, Leighton, Burne-Jones, G. F. Watts, Wm. Morris and John Ruskin.
Mr. Hollyer had a strong preference for a large size plate and the struggles involved with a wet plate, 24x18, would be difficult to realise in these days. Perhaps even more of a task was a series of whole-plate views of the Thames, involving a portable tent-like darkroom in addition to the extremely heavy camera, wet plate bath, collodion and developer.
The dry plate was adopted as soon as it became a commercial possibility and he obtained many excellent results on the early plates made by Cowan or Nelson.
Until the introduction of the Platinotype process his negatives were printed on unglazed salted paper some of these prints, when carefully preserved, are in existence to-day, still in excellent condition but it was on Platinotype paper that his finest reproductions were made, and his large prints, some of them measuring 40x30ins., are to be found in many collections in all parts of the civilised world.
Although his chief activities were concerned in reproducing works of art, Mr. Hollyer, as a relaxation, enjoyed taking portraits, and for some 30 years the studio was reserved on Mondays only for this purpose. These portraits were marked by quietness in tone, naturalness in expression and absence of retouching on the negative, and most of the well-known men and women of the day, authors, artists, and divines were recorded by his camera.
Frederick Hollyer retired from active work in his well-known studio, Pembroke Square, Kensington, in 1913, and the business was carried on his two sons who had been working with him.
The funeral took place at Reigate Cemetery on November 24th, when the Society represented by the President, Mr. A. J. Bull.”  
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