The Artist's Van with Marcus Sparling in the Crimea, 1855, by Roger Fenton. Acquired by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2005.
The Clark Acquires 1855 Photograph by Roger Fenton
For Immediate Release
March 25, 2005
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute has acquired an important photograph by influential English artist Roger Fenton (1819-1869). The Artist's Van with Marcus Sparling in the Crimea, a salt print from a collodion negative, dates from 1855. The photograph was purchased through private sale from a newly discovered collection of Fenton's work belonging to descendents of the photographer.
"As we prepare to celebrate 50 years, we continue to expand into new areas of collecting," said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. "This beautiful photograph by Roger Fenton enhances the 25 works we have by this early master of photography, augmenting the growing photography collection, begun in 1998."
The photograph depicts Fenton's assistant, Marcus Sparling, sitting on the horse-drawn wagon that served as the photographer's traveling dark room. The enclosed wagon is marked "Photography Van" on the side, and the first part of Fenton's name, "R. FE" can be seen on part of an open door in back. The photograph was taken in 1855, when Fenton was on an expedition in Balaklava and Sebastopol, documenting the Crimean War. It was originally exhibited in London and published as a wood engraving in The Illustrated London News, November 1855. Fenton took 350 photographs of the Crimean War, his most important body of work. The Clark holds 25 other photographs by Fenton, including three from the Crimean expedition.
Sparling, a former corporal in the British Army and a photographer in his own right, wrote Theory and Practice of the Photographic Art which was published upon his return from the Crimea in 1856.
"This remarkable photograph is a fitting addition to the Clark because it is in many ways about the art of photography itself," said James A. Ganz, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Clark. "It is both a beautiful work of art and a document of the photographer's process. It depicts the very traveling dark room in which Fenton likely developed the Crimean war photographs in our collection. In a way, it is the photographer turning the camera on himself."
The Artist's Van with Marcus Sparling in the Crimea can now be seen in the Clark's print study room by appointment. The photograph will be featured in a 50th anniversary exhibition of great works on paper in spring 2006.
Photography at the Clark
The Clark began building a collection of early photographs in May 1998. Since then the Institute has assembled a core collection of more than 300 photographs that date from the invention of the medium in 1839 to the threshold of modernism in the 1920s, and reflect the quality and character of the Clark's collections of paintings, prints, and drawings. The invention and development of photography informed every aspect of art in the 19th century, the period for which the Clark is perhaps best known, yet the medium was generally neglected in the art market when founders Sterling and Francine Clark were building their collection. The couple collected no photographs, but did amass some 500 drawings and 1,400 prints that formed the basis for a curatorial department devoted to works on paper-now the department of prints, drawings, and photographs.
Photographs collected to date include works by Julia Margaret Cameron, Gustave Le Gray, Edouard Baldus, John Beasley Greene, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Charles Negre, Anna Atkins, Winslow Homer, and Edgar Degas.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. For more information call 413-458-2303 or visit www.clarkart.edu.