Valentine Blanchard, senior
Little known now, Valentine Blanchard (1831-1901) was highly esteemed in his own time. He was one of Cambridgeshire’s most distinguished photographers, but his only period of practice in the county appears to have been during a brief return to Wisbech in 1859. Though he was born and brought up in Wisbech and retired to Cambridge, his career as a professional photographer was almost entirely London-based. (He did, however, work for a few months (1859-60) in King's Lynn, Norfolk, and he may have held an interest in the Cambridgeshire business run by his nephew, also a Valentine Blanchard.)
While apprenticed to a Wisbech printer he took such opportunities as he could afford to experiment with photography. Having completed his apprenticeship he moved to London, where he found an American daguerreotypist who was willing to teach him the art. He opened his first London studio in the 1850s and went on to practise in Regent Street from 1876 to 1884. The Photographic News visited this studio in 1880, spoke warmly of Blanchard's ‘very extensive reputation’, and praised his lighting techniques and his opal glass printing. When Henry Baden Pritchard visited the studio he found it surprisingly dark, and Blanchard explained his preference for subdued lighting. ‘I consider the most perfect lighting a photographer can have is when the sun is obscured by a white cloud, and I endeavour to imitate this phenomenon in my studio. (I) admit pure light only through two or three squares of glass.’
Blanchard’s activities and achievements were varied: his photographs of members of the Whitefriars Club (1871-1872) contributed significantly to his reputation for portraiture; he produced several successful series of stereoscopic views; he introduced the Boudoir Portrait Photo in 1875; he ran a photographic paper manufactory for a while in the 1880s; he became a member of the Linked Ring. He also invented the ‘Blanchard’s Brush’ for coating wet plates. (This was a glass strip with a felt end – or with swansdown calico wrapped over the end, according to a turn of the century dictionary of photography).
Contemporary judgement ranked him among the ‘brilliant band of the sixties’, along with such figures as Francis Bedford, Henry Peach Robinson and Oscar Rejlander, and his obituary in The British Journal of Photography identified him as one of the pioneers who did ‘much to raise (photography’s) status and lay the foundations of what it has become today’.
More can be discovered about Blanchard in the following sources (all of which have been drawn on in the preparation of these notes):
Henry Baden Pritchard, The photographic studios of Europe (London: Piper & Castle. 1882; OCR version – Lavergne, USA: Kessinger, 2010)
PhotoLondon, Valentine Blanchard
Bill Jay, Valentine Blanchard 1831-1901
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