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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Ralph Winwood Robinson

Dates:  1861, 11 September - 1942, 11 April
Born:  Great Britain, England, Leamington
Active:  UK
Ralph Robinson took over the portrait studio of his father, Henry Peach Robinson, and is probably best known for his platinum portraits of Fellows of the Royal Academy of Arts. He was also a member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood.
[Courtesy of Pam Roberts]
Ralph Winwood Robinson (1862-1942) was an artist associated with over 60 portraits and is probably best known for his platinum portraits of Fellows of the Royal Academy of Arts. He was the son of the eminent photographic artist Henry Peach Robinson. When his father retired due to failing health in the late 1880's he took over his father’s photographic studio at the Great Hall in Tunbridge Wells. The business became known subsequently as H.P. Robinson & Son, and had a considerable reputation for child portraiture. This studio was subsequently taken over by the Tunbridge Wells photographer Percy Squire Lankester. By 1891 Ralph had relocated to Nutfield, Surrey and ran a photographic business there under the name of H.P. Robinson & Son, a business name he retained throughout the remainder of his career. By 1901 he was residing in Reigate, Surrey and operating a photographic business there under the same name. Ralph Robinson later took over the Rembrandt Studio in Redhill, and another in Croydon and Guildford. He lived and worked in Redhill from about 1920 onwards. He was a highly respected pictorialist in his own right, and his enthusiasm for exploring the unique aesthetics of the photograph led him to become a founder member of the Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1892. He developed a ground-breaking approach to location portraiture, producing a highly acclaimed series published as Royal Academicians and Associates. These studies showed the artists at work in their studios, and sitters included Alfred Waterhouse, George Frederic Watts and others. Like many professional photographers in the closing years of the 19th century, Robinson found his livelihood being eroded by offers of cheap portrait photography in return for coupons being offered by soap manufacturers and tobacco companies. As a direct result of this, Robinson and others banded together and established the Professional Photographers' Association in London in 1901.
Ralph Winwood Robinson was born 1861 and was baptised September 11, 1861 at Leamington Priors, All Saints. .He was one of five children born to the eminent photographer Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) and Selina Grieves (1838-1909), the daughter of a Ludlow chemist, John Edward Grieves. By 1864 Ralph's father, at the age of 34, was forced to give up his studio due to ill-health from exposure to toxic photographic chemicals. Because of his illness Ralph's father relocated his family to London to concentrate on the theoretical side of photography and to write essays and articles about photography. By about 1868 his health had improved and relocated his family and business to Tunbridge Wells and by 1871 formed a partnership with the accomplished photographer Nelson King Cherrill (1845-1916), which partnership ended in 1875. By this time his son Ralph, now 14, had been following his fathers career with great interest and developed a strong interest in photography himself. In 1871 Ralph was living with his parents and three siblings at 21 Church Rd., Tunbridge Wells. In 1881 Ralph was attending the Camp Hill School in Lancashire studying analytical chemistry. He is listed in the census of 1881 as the nephew of the Gossage family, who are related to his father’s sister Clara Elizabeth Robinson who married Frederick H. Gossage.
On November 28, 1887 Ralph married Janet S. Reid (1857-1944) at St Martins by Loo. She was born at London and was the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth Reid. In the period of 1889 and 1891 he and his family were living in Redhill and Nutfield, Surrey and during that time Ralph was running his own photographic business. In the 1901 census taken at Alma Road, Reigate, Surrey Ralph is working as a photographer employing a small staff. Living with him are his wife; two children and three servants. His wife was away at the time visiting her sister Flora M. Reid in Hampstead, London. Eventually Ralph and Janet had four children namely Janet M, Margaret Winwood, Flora Kathleen Reid, and Vera Elizabeth Mary Robinson.
Ralph’s father continued his studio in Tunbridge Wells until he retired in 1888 and moved to London in 1891. His studio was taken over by the Tunbridge Wells photographer Percy Squire Lankester (1866-1930) under the business name of Lankester & Warren. Ralph’s father continued as an artist and writer until his death in Tunbridge Wells February 21, 1901.
From 1920 until the time of his death in 1942 Ralph lived and worked in Redhill, Surrey. His wife Janet passed away December 1944 at Cockfield, Sussex and Ralph died April 11, 1942 at the Rembrandt Studios in Redhill, Surrey. The executors of his estate were his daughters Margaret and Flora and he left an estate valued at over 12,000 pounds.
Ralph Winwood Robinson left behind a large body of work, much of which can be found in the National Portrait Gallery, various other galleries around Britain, as well as a nice collection at the National Archives. Local museums and art galleries also hold some of his images in their collections, including the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery. Although perhaps best known for his portraiture work he also produced many fine photographs of landscapes as well as other subjects. He even produced under the name of H.P. Robinson & Son "photographers of Redhill and Guildford" a special album consisting of twelve images of the Hospital of the Blessed Trinity at Guildford.
[Courtesy of Edward James Gilbert, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada]
August 29, 2012

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Ralph Winwood Robinson
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Ralph Winwood Robinson was born in Leamington, England, on September 11, 1861 (not in 1862, as sometimes stated). He was the second child and first son of Henry Peach Robinson, an early champion of "high-art" photography in the United Kingdom (see above biography).
Initially, Ralph embarked upon a scientific career, working as an analytical chemist at a soap factory in Widnes, Lancashire. In 1886, however, his father’s poor health necessitated his taking over the Robinson photographic studio, located in Tunbridge Wells. It was renamed H. P. Robinson and Son, and the next year Ralph brought his new wife, Janet Reid, into the business. The senior partner fully retired in 1889, prompting Ralph to move the studio to Redhill, Surrey, and add a branch in Guilford.
Robinson was a founder of the Professional Photographers’ Association and became a devoted attendee of its conferences. His best-known professional work was a large group of portraits made in 1891 of members of the Royal Academy of Arts, casually pictured in the then-unorthodox setting of their homes, and published as a book of platinum prints the next year. He was also particularly successful at photographing children and animals, in informal poses.
Robinson artistic instincts led him to become a founder, on May 27, 1892, of the Linked Ring Brotherhood, instantly England’s leading group of creative photographers. With it, he took on the pseudonym of "Janitor." He became a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS) and with his father a founder of the Tunbridge Wells Amateur Photographic Association.
His creative work was exhibited throughout Europe for fifteen years, beginning around 1890. In London, he showed regularly in the members’ exhibitions of the Royal Photographic Society and the annual salons organized by the Linked Ring. Beyond home, his work was seen in Brussels, Edinburgh, Florence, Glasgow, Hamburg, and Leeds. Among the most important shows were the 1891 International Ausstellung Kunstlerische Photographie in Vienna, and the 1894 Premiere Exposition d’Art Photographique at the Photo-Club de Paris. England’s Photograms of the Year reproduced his work frequently between 1896 and 1905.
Robinson’s work was also seen in the United States. Among his showings were the sixth Joint Exhibition (Philadelphia, 1893), Eastman Kodak exhibition (National Academy of Art, New York, 1898), second Philadelphia Photographic Salon (1899), and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis, 1904). Alfred Stieglitz included a genre image of his, picturing two elderly women conversing in a rustic street, in the July 1900 issue of Camera Notes, as a photogravure.
After the death of Henry Peach Robinson, Ralph printed some of his father’s exhibition images in platinum, to continue the elder’s legacy. He ran the Redhill studio until his death in 1942, on April 11. His daughter, Margaret W. Robinson, then closed this branch, but kept the Guilford studio going for about another three years. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts owns 1 photogravure (from Camera Notes) by Robinson. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
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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