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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John Dillwyn Llewelyn

Other: J.D. Llewelyn 
Dates:  1810, 12 January - 1882, 24 August
Born:  Great Britain, Wales, Swansea
Died:  Great Britain, London
Active:  UK
A chemist who experimented with early photographic processes and was, by marriage, a cousin of William Henry Fox Talbot. He took landscapes, portraits, architectural shots and an early series of animals in natural settings. These shots amazed people as they were taken at a time when long exposures were necessary and they were not blurred - it was later revealed that the animals were stuffed.
He took Daguerreotypes, Talbotypes and his own oxymel collodion negatives, using honey in the process to increase the viscosity.
[With contributions by Pam Roberts]
The 1853-1856 album of one of his daughters, Emma Charlotte Dillwyn Llewelyn (1837-1929), contains 128 salted paper prints and albumen prints from paper and glass negatives and is held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Accession Number: 2005.100.382 (1-85))
His youngest sister, Mary Dillwyn (1816-1906), was also a photographer until her marriage in 1857.
His daughter, Thereza Mary (1834-1926), was interested in science, particularly astronomy, and photography. In 1858 she married Nevil Story-Maskelyne, also a photographer, of Basset Down in Wiltshire, grandson of Nevil Maskelyne the Astronomer Royal.

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Approved biography for John Dillwyn Llewelyn
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

Llewellyn was married to Emma Talbot, a cousin of Fox Talbot, and occupied a similar privileged social and intellectual position, taking an active interest in the various scientific and artistic issues of the day. He practised photography from as early as 1839 and remained an amateur, although his work displays a high level of technical skill. Llewellyn seems to have been particularly interested in capturing fleeting moments such as freezing the movement of waves or smoke - technically ambitious subject matter for early photography. 
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.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Approved biography for John Dillwyn Llewelyn
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Some photographers are historically important as much for the central role they played in a nexus of activity as for their own photographic work. In a sense Llewelyn married into photography, for his wife Emma was a cousin of W. H. F. Talbot and their first daughter, Thereza, married Mervyn Herbert Nevil Story Maskelyne (becoming Thereza Story Maskelyne). Llewelyn’s Welsh estate Penllergare was a regular stopping-off point for Talbot and his cousin Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot (“Kit”), as well as William Henry Nicholl, Calvert Richard Jones, and others. The son of a botanist who grew up surrounded by both wealth and amateur scientific industry, Llewelyn was already a fellow of the Royal Society and the Linnean Society when he became a member of the Photographic Exchange Club and the Amateur Photographic Association. His daughter recalled sitting for a daguerreotype portrait by her father in about 1841 or 1842, and his wife corresponded regularly with her cousin about photography. A wonderfully accomplished landscape photographer, Llewelyn was certainly taking photographs on paper by the mid-1840s. A love of botany informed his sensitive reactions to nature in his work, while his intimate acquaintance with the comfortable life of country houses resulted in a gentle vision of that privileged world. Photography was both a scientific and an aesthetic tool for him, recording both the beauty of the landscape and the archaeological ruins in Wales. For the 1854 exhibition of the Royal Infirmary Fund in Dundee, Llewelyn contributed fifteen calotypes, mostly of Penllergare and its surroundings, including studies of rocks and shells and a seaside view, Sea Shore — Breaking Waves (Taken on a dull sunless November day). His work covered a similar range, again in calotype, in that year’s exhibition of the Photographic Society in London. Studies of trees made up most his paper-negative contributions to the 1855 exhibition of the London Photographic Institution. In 1856 a reviewer for the Norfolk News observed that Llewelyn carefully employed selective development of his calotype negatives, thereby saving “many pictures that must otherwise have been lost” and obtaining “a higher degree of excellence than would have been practicable under any other treatment.” After 1855 Llewelyn remained a steady contributor to exhibitions, primarily showing views of Wales done from glass negatives. Most of his work is known through his wet-collodion negatives, but here too he made a signal contribution to the art. The necessity of coating the glass plate in the field, exposing it while wet, and then developing it while it was still wet imposed a great burden on the photographer. To deal with this difficulty Llewelyn devised the oxymel process. This involved adding a commercially available mixture of honey and vinegar to the plate, which preserved it in a moist state, thus allowing the photographer to prepare sensitive plates at home and even to defer development until the end of the day. Oxymel’s strongest advocate would be Philip Henry Delamotte. 
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
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.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

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John Dillwyn Llewelyn
The Photographer with his Tent 
1853 (ca)
Family history 
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Supplemental information

John, born in 1810, was the eldest son of Lewis Weston and Mary Dillwyn. Upon coming of age he inherited his maternal grandfather's (John Llewelyn) estates of Penllergare and Ynisygerwn, near Swansea, south Wales UK, and also assumed the additional surname of Llewelyn. Educated privately he met, through his father who was a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Linnean Society, and at one time a member of Parliament, many of the eminent men of his time. These included Sir David Brewster, Michael Faraday and Charles Wheatstone. Lewis Weston Dillwyn had been sent to Swansea by his father William, to take over the management of the Swansea pottery.
John's non-photographic exploits included assisting Wheatstone with the first ever experiments in sub-marine telegraphy, off the Mumbles, south Wales, powering a boat with an electric motor and creating the first private orchid house to replicate the original conditions of the plants in the south American jungles, complete with heated waterfall.
In 1833 he married Emma Thomasina Talbot, daughter of Thomas Mansel Talbot and Lady Mary Lucy, nee Fox Strangways. Thomas was related to William Davenport Talbot and Mary was the sister of Elisabeth Talbot, the parents of William Henry Fox Talbot. Henry Talbot, through his botanic interests was a friend of Lewis Weston Dillwyn and spent some of his teenage years at Penrice, the home of the Welsh Talbots, also visiting Penllergare.
In January 1839, following the announcements of photographic processes by both William Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, John himself began to experiment, with the encouragement of Henry Talbot. He tried all the processes available. His earliest daguerreotype is dated 1840. None of his early photogenic drawings seem to survive, but some thousand calotype and wet collodion negatives still exist together with albums in private and public collections and the branches of the family.
When the Royal Photographic Society was founded in 1853, John was one of those who attended the foundation meeting at the Society of Arts in London, and was, for some years, a founder Council member. He exhibited regularly in the early exhibitions of the Society as well as in Dundee, the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition and Paris in 1855. At this latter exhibition he was amongst those awarded a silver medal for his 'Motion' series.
In 1856 he announced his own oxymel process which allowed collodion negatives to be preserved over many days. This was hailed as a boon by the Illustrated London News of the period. He also took a number of stereo images using a camera he actually bought for his daughter Thereza's birthday in 1856.
His last images would appear to date from the end of the 1850s after which it is possible that his health prevented any further photographic activity. He never took his camera outside Britain, though the family frequently visited mainland Europe. The majority of his images were taken around his estate of Penllergare, near Swansea, and around the Welsh coast. There are also a number taken in Cornwall over several years, many in Bristol including some pioneer animal and bird images in Clifton Zoo, Yorkshire, Derbyshire and a few in Scotland. His circle of photographic friends included Philip Henry Delamotte, Robert Hunt, Hugh Welch Diamond and especially his distant relative Calvert Richard Jones. Another friend was Antoine Claudet with whom John was, in the 1840s, conducting experiments on the daguerreotype process, though what these were is unknown beyond diary references to their taking part. It is interesting that the leading London daguerreotypist should be assisted by the amateur John Dillwyn Llewelyn.
Though he never published any photographic books himself, he did contribute to The Sunbeam edited by his friend Philip Henry Delamotte and other books. His own publication, Picture of Welsh Scenery, due to be published by Cundall, seems never to have appeared.
John died in August 1882 at his London home, Atherton Grange, Emma having died the previous year, and both are buried at Penllergaer Church, originally built by John for his family and estate workers.
John's ancestors were both Welsh and American. His great great grandfather, William Dillwyn, had emigrated to north America in the 17th century and was granted land by William Penn. Descendants still live in the USA and the Parrish Art Gallery and Museum, on Long Island, was founded by a descendant.
John, through marriage, was related to Henry Talbot, and though his father's family to Richard Dykes Alexander, an Ipswich photographer yet to be researched. His sister Mary Dillwyn was an early woman pioneer. In a small notebook kept by John is a recipe for the calotype process sent to Mary by Robert Hunt in 184-, the final figure is missing. His daughter Thereza was also a prolific photographer and married Nevil Story Maskelyne. She and her father would go on joint photographic expeditions with John using his large format cameras and Thereza her birthday present stereo camera. A recent album of photographs by Mary and Thereza recently sold for £41,000! Others in the family, including his brother Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn, also took photographs, some of which survive.
Richard Morris
Ty'r Gwynt
Port Eynon
Swansea SA3 1NL
30 December 2005

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
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Internet resources

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Swansea Museum (Wales) 
Has a large collection of photographs by John Dillwyn Llewelyn. 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on John Dillwyn Llewelyn.] 
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