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The Making of Mary Seton Watts Exhibition: Picture in Focus

Posted 2nd December 2013
Watts Contemporary Gallery

Photograph Album of cartes de visite, decorated by Mary Seton Fraser Tytler

c. 1865-67

By the 1860s the assembly of photograph albums was a pastime common in all levels of society. Their popularity was the result of the increased availability of photography and carte de visite, which encouraged the wider collecting of images. The photographs in this album tell us about who and how Mary collected. Included are images of family, Scottish friends, significant people of the period, Royal figures and some which remain unidentified. Often people are grouped together, though the reasons for this are not always clear.

The work is highly decorative, and some pages are humorous and include visual tricks. The elegant settings add decoration and vibrant colours to these black and white images. The arrangement and designs on the pages bring to the photographs a life and meaning beyond their immediate subjects.

The photograph album is the earliest surviving work attributed to Mary. It was created by Mary between the ages of 15 and 18 with considerable skill as it was produced before her formal artistic training. In this piece she created witty and imaginative watercolour settings for a selection of family photographs and collected carte de visite.

One of the dated pages, and strong visual image of Mary’s early life, is a photograph of Mary and her family outside her grandmother’s family home of Sanquhar, near Forres, Inverness-shire in September 1865. 

Find out more about The Making of Mary Seton Watts exhibition.