Lot 39
  • 39

Colonel H. Stuart Wortley

7,000 - 10,000 USD
3,750 USD
bidding is closed


  • Colonel H. Stuart Wortley

  • albumen print
  • 12 1/8 by 14 1/2 in. (30.5 by 37 cm.)
albumen print, mounted, the photographer's letterpress title and credit label on the mount, 1869-70


Christie's East, New York, 11 November 1981, Lot 24


Katherine DiGiulio, Natural Variations: Photographs by Colonel Stuart Wortley (Huntington Library, 1994), cover and fig. 15 (another print).  DiGiulio draws attention to the extreme rarity of Stuart Wortley's sea and sky studies.  More information on the photographer's innovative techniques for photographing seascapes can be found at sothebys.com.

Catalogue Note

While little-known today, Colonel H. Stuart Wortley was highly regarded in his day as a skilled and innovative practitioner of the medium of photography.  His reputation was founded principally upon his dramatically-rendered moonlit seascapes, such as the example offered here.  Photographing the sea created serious technical challenges for 19th-century photographers; the wet-plate process was not able to capture a satisfactory exposure of both the sea and the sky on a single plate.  An exposure timed to render the sea properly would leave the sky overexposed and essentially blank, while an exposure timed to capture cloud detail would leave the sea underexposed.  Gustave Le Gray and other photographers handled this discrepancy by making two separate negatives: one capturing a perfect exposure for the sky, the other for the sea.  The two negatives were then married in the printing process, rendering a scene that seemingly represented a single perfect exposure. 
Stuart Wortley's knowledge of photographic chemistry and his imaginative approach to exposing his negatives allowed him to capture his seascapes on a single plate.  His many views of the sea under moonlight were actually taken during the daytime.  Stuart Wortley's strategy was to take a very short exposure of the scene.  The brevity of the exposure mitigated the difference between sea and sky, and gave Stuart Wortley a 'thinner' negative that would yield the moonlit photograph he had previsualized.