Sick Beds and Deathbeds

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 Sick Bed and Deathbed Photography

[LEFT] Albert, the Prince Consort on his Deathbed, 14th December 1861 by Leopold F. Manley (1863). This carte-de-visite features a composite photograph created by Leopold F. Manley depicting Prince Albert on his deathbed surrounded by members of the Royal Family, physicians and various important personages.

Leopold Frederick Manley (1825-1898) was a portrait painter and artist who operated a photographic portrait studio at 20 Orchard Street, Portman Square, London between 1861 and 1864. During the early 1870s, Leopold Manley resided in Brighton. At the time of the 1871 census, forty-five year old Leopold F. Manley, who described himself as an "Artist from Nature" and a "Photographer", was residing at 18-19 West Hill Road, Brighton.

Sick Beds and Deathbeds in Art

[ABOVE] The Saltonstall Family by David  Des Granges (c1636). In this painting, Sir Richard Saltonstall draws back the bed curtain to reveal his first wife in bed. The bed-ridden lady gestures towards her two children. Seated in a chair, holding their newborn child is Sir Richard Saltonstall's second wife.
[ABOVE] A Young Woman on her Death Bed, a Flemish painting dating from 1621. The subject of this artwork  and the artist who painted her are both unknown. The original painting is in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France. [ABOVE] Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby on her Death-Bed by Anthony Van Dyck (1633). This portrait, which was painted two days after Lady Digby's death, was commissioned by her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby.
The original painting of Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby on her Death-Bed by Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) is in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London. The original painting of The Saltonstall Family by David  Des Granges (c1611-c1671) is in Tate Britain, London.

[ABOVE] Portrait of an unknown woman in her sickbed, photographed at the subject's home by a photographer from the firm of  W. & A. H. Fry, 68 East Street, Brighton (c.1886).

[ABOVE] A post-mortem portrait of a baby produced as a carte-de-visite by Alfred Alphonse Atkins of Brighton around 1881.

[LEFT] A posthumous portrait of a baby photographed by Alfred Alphonse Atkins around 1881 when he was residing at 19 Park Crescent Road, Brighton. The trade plate, rubber-stamped on the reverse of this carte-de-visite, gives Alfred Atkins' studio address as 163 Lewes Road, Brighton. Alfred Atkins would have been summoned to the home of the bereaved parents to take this final and probably only portrait of their recently deceased child. A shoemaker and boot repairer by trade, Alfred Atkins (1844-1926) worked as a photographer in Brighton during the 1880s and 1890s.

[ABOVE] The trade plate of  the Brighton photographer Alfred Alphonse Atkins (1844-1926)


Two Photographs showing Women in their Sick Beds (from the Collection of William A. Fox)

[ABOVE] Portrait of an unknown woman in her sickbed, photographed at the subject's home by Ebenezer Pannell of Brighton (c.1900). This cabinet photograph, carries the trade plate "E. Pannell, 49 St George's Road, Brighton".  

[Photograph from the collection of William A. Fox]

[ABOVE] Portrait of a woman in her sickbed, photographed at the subject's home by a photographer from the firm of Pannell & Holden (c1902). This cabinet photograph, carries the trade plate "Pannell & Holden, 49 St George's Road & 17 Compton Avenue, Brighton".

[Photograph from the collection of William A. Fox]

[ABOVE] Post-mortem portrait. A daguerreotype of a dead child laid out in a casket, surrounded by flowers (c1850) [ABOVE] Post-mortem portrait. A daguerreotype of a dead child (c1850)
These two photographs of women in their sickbeds were submitted by Richard Fox of Hove. Both photographs are from the collection of Richard's late father, William A. Fox. Both photographs are unusual and intriguing in their own way. The photographs serve as interesting "social documents". They also capture a mood, reflecting the rather sad existence of two invalids. The room details shown in the photograph are of particular interest in that they show the interior of a late Victorian / early Edwardian bedroom. The photographs are useful historical  documents, as there are not that many photographs which show an occupied  bedroom from the early 1900s.

[ABOVE] A detail from the cabinet portrait of the woman in her sickbed by Ebenezer Pannell of Brighton, showing family photographs displayed on a wooden shelf unit.

Family photographs were clearly very important to these two women. They seemed to appreciate the significance of family portraits and it was probably the same instinct that compelled their close family member/carer to arrange what was, for the photographer concerned, an unusual portrait sitting. [Professional photographers would charge extra to photograph customers inside their own homes, so there must have been some pressing reason why it was felt necessary to summon the photographer to the family home. Clearly the two women were not well enough to make a trip to the photographer's studio]. The resulting photographs (it is likely that a dozen or half dozen copies were made) were probably sent out to family members who lived a long distance away (perhaps even abroad, in Canada or Australia), so that they could have one final, treasured portrait before the subject of the photograph passed away.

It has been suggested that these two cabinet portraits are "post-mortem" photographs, but, although both ladies appear to be "out of it" and perhaps close to death, they were probably still alive when the photographer took these portraits. Neither lady is responding to the camera - the lady with the cat seems to be deep in thought, the other woman seems to be in a trance-like state. The subjects of the photographs are, either consciously or unconsciously, conveying a pathetic appearance. The Pannell & Holden photograph shows an ailing woman who only has a cat and a pair of caged birds to keep her company during the day. (The presence of the cat at the foot of her bed makes it unlikely that the subject is deceased - in late Victorian/ early Edwardian times, it would be far too undignified and inappropriate to include a pet cat in a "post-mortem portrait").

The vast majority of "post-mortem" portraits were of babies, infants or young children. [See the illustrated examples on the left]. The photographs of deceased children were taken to preserve a memory of the departed loved ones and were perhaps the only portraits the parents had of their offspring. Photographs of dead adults are rarer and by 1900 (in England at least), the practice of making "post-mortem" portraits had virtually come to an end. It is possible that both women were seriously ill and were thought to be "not long for this world". There is a likelihood that these two women were invalids for much of their adult life and that when relatives requested a portrait, the only solution was to commission a professional photographer to visit the bedridden subjects in their own home. There is a story that Alice James, the sister of Henry James the novelist, was an invalid for much of her adult life and was confined to bed for years before she died of cancer in 1892, aged 43. One writer has written that "the significant portion of Alice Jamesí life was spent in prostration, bedridden and waiting for death". I imagine it was a similar scenario for these two unknown ladies of Brighton.



Thanks to Richard Fox and his mother Mrs Joy Fox for allowing me to feature the two cabinet portraits of the unidentified women in their sickbeds. The two cabinet portraits were owned by William A. Fox, Richard Fox's late father.

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