|Dates: ||1814 - 1887|
Early British photographer of the Pyrenées where he was aquainted with Farnham Maxwell Lyte and Jean-Jacques Heilmann.
In the summer of 1829, John Herschel (later Sir John), drawing with a camera lucida in the Pyrenees, wrote to his mother: “Johnny & I are running a race which shall sketch most — he draws very nicely & with practice from Nature will acquire ‘freedom of hand’ in abundance.” Johnny was the younger brother of Herschel’s new Scottish wife, Margaret (“Maggie”) Stewart. Two decades later John Stewart had acquired that “freedom of hand,” not with a pencil, but rather with the photographic camera. Together with his brothers, he entered the printing business in London, and in 1839 he married a childhood Scottish friend, a resident of France in delicate health. This was one factor in his living mainly in Pau in southwest France, a favored area for recuperation and also a hotbed of photographic activity. It is not known when or why Stewart first took up photography, but his close relationship with Herschel could have encouraged him. Once in Pau he fell into the circle of unusually active amateurs who employed waxed paper. Stewart’s entries in the London exhibitions of the Society of Arts in 1852, the Photographic Institution in 1854, and the Photographic Society in 1855 were all views taken in the Pyrenees. They were done with a variety of waxed-paper processes, both wet and dry, using largely the special system that he devised based on advice from Henri-Victor Regnault, the French physicist who was director of the Sevres porcelain works. Stewart used a vacuum pump to force the chemicals into the fibers of the paper, leading to better uniformity, and Herschel proudly published this process for him in the Athenaeum in 1853. Stewart was an excellent photographer, taking not only landscapes in the Pyrenees but also views on visits to England. He submitted his portrait of Herschel to the 1857 Manchester “Art Treasures” exhibition. In a paper on photography’s relation to art published in the Journal of the Photographic Society in 1853, Sir william newton felt that photographic prints “ought not to be so chemically, as artistically beautiful. The nearest approach in this respect . . . were the excellent Photographs exhibited by Mr. Stewart.” At Pau, Stewart teamed up with Maxell Lyte and others to form an active photographic society and a printing establishment. Later in the 1850s his commercial activities began to overwhelm his amateur photography. A banker, Stewart died a wealthy man, in Pau, where he had enriched the photographic scene.
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.
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