Picturing the family
Picturing the family

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Picturing the family

4.8 Backgrounds and accessories

Purpose

By now you have sufficient familiarity with early portraits to know that photographers regularly used painted backdrops and accessories to create a sort of stage set within the studio. These backgrounds came into widespread use with the introduction of the carte de visite in c.1860. Until the Second World War, 2 scenarios remained popular: the interior setting with windows, curtains, table and chair; and the parkland setting with trees, balustrade, rustic bench or stile. This choice of backdrop provides the most visible evidence of photography's debt to portrait painting.

Activity 15

Study this (I think) lovely picture of Hiram and Lily Broadhurst with their sons George and Arthur, taken in 1911. It provides a good example of a painted interior backdrop which includes wainscoting, French windows and floor-length curtaining. We know that Hiram Broadhurst worked in the tram sheds in Denton near Manchester when this portrait was taken.

What purpose does the backdrop serve in the portrait? For example, do the painted backdrops have any connection with the theory of idealization?

Image 32: Photographer/Painter: Anon. Subject: Hiram and Lily Broadhurst with their sons, George and Arthur, 1911.

Answer

The backdrop confers anonymity by divorcing people from their actual settings and circumstances.

At the same time the backdrops hint at wealth and elegant lifestyles. For instance, wainscoting and French windows conjure up ideas of traditional, gracious rectories in the home counties; appointments which did not feature in the terraced houses of the industrial city. Indeed Hiram and Lily Broadhurst would have counted themselves very fortunate to rent a house with a bay window and an inside toilet!

So we can conclude that backdrops were indeed intended to play a part in the idealization process.

A173_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has nearly 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus