|1819 - 1895
Known invariably as Vernon Heath, the young man was plunged into the art world in 1841 when he became secretary to his uncle, Robert Vernon, the respected art collector and major donor to the National Gallery in London. In his Recollections, published near the end of his life, Heath recalled attending one of Michael Faraday’s lectures at the Royal Institution in London, on January 25, 1839, the very evening that Talbot first displayed his new art of photogenic drawing. In 1842 Heath secured a license from Talbot (only the third one issued), purchased his first calotype camera from the famous London optician Andrew Ross, and gathered together the proper chemicals, obtaining “results with these which then afforded me the greatest pleasure and gratification.” He photographed his uncle’s estate at Ardington, Berkshire, exhibiting these views as late as 1874, and finally summoned up the courage to ask his famous uncle to sit for his camera. The portrait’s exposure was eight minutes, with the subject sitting in a garden chair; Heath remembered that “he did as he was told. I obtained a capital result, for it was the most characteristic portrait that had ever been done of him.” His new passion brought him many new contacts, and in 1854 Heath opened a photographic studio in London, accepting “engagements at country houses” and giving lessons in photography. He took in Robert Murray as a partner in 1855, by which time he had abandoned calotypy for wet collodion. From 1857 to 1865 Heath contributed regularly to various photographic exhibitions, and his views of Burnham Beeches were considered some of the finest photographs of the time. But despite his artistic success and the respect of his peers, Heath found himself in constant financial difficulty. He first filed for bankruptcy in 1865 and was in legal trouble throughout the 1870s and 1880s. He attempted suicide in the river Thames in 1891 but fortunately survived, completing his illuminating Recollections the following year.
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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