Georgina Berkeley | photomontage

If you were searching for the great formal innovators of Surrealism it’s unlikely that you’d linger long in front of the filing cabinet marked “Victorian aristocrats”. André Breton and his fellow dream insurrectionists would probably have drawn a blank at the name Georgina Berkeley, an English noblewoman whose wealthy family lent its name to the square in which the nightingale famously sang. But her methods of incorporating fragments of photographs into beguilingly strange compositions, which she practised around the late 1860s, predated Surrealist collage techniques by about 60 years. These images – now held in the Musée d’Orsay – take photos of what were presumably friends and family members and sends them on a journey through the artist’s rich imagination.

Jeune garçon soufflant des bulles de savon dans lesquelles s'inscrivent des visages
Jeune homme, probablement de la famille Leigh, enserré dans les anneaux d'un python
Portraits ornant un service en porcelaine blanc et bleu
Scène à la plage et deux enfants à dos d'éléphant
The Berkeley Album 1867-71 1
The Berkeley Album 1867-71 3
The Berkeley Album 1867-71 4
The Berkeley Album 1867-71 5
Travestis des deux sexes
Croix avec neuf portraits de femmes, hommes, enfant et un chien
Dix portraits de femmes et d'hommes dans un décor de fougères et diverses plantes
Eventail avec onze portraits d'hommes, femmes et enfants

 

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11 comments

  1. I think we’ve just discovered Terry Gilliam’s spiritual ancestor. And she’s BRILLIANT. 😀

  2. Linda Hollander

    James: These have a lot of charm, something that, to me anyway, the later Surrealists held in short supply!

    It always amazes me how much leisure time these people (Victorian high bourgeosie, for lack of a better phrase, and especially the women!) had to do stuff like this, and yet, how little really imaginative/crative work was done, and/or has survived. Coming upon something so original is really amazing. Congratulations YET AGAIN!

    HOW did you ever find this? You said the images are at the Orsay, but surely not on display…what’s your secret? Out with it!

    Linda5051

    PS: Did you notice Ballet boy? What a hoot…she had quite the sense of humor.

    • I love the cross-dressing one! And you’re right, these really are the product of a leisure surfeit we can only envy.

      Oh Linda, if only you knew how crude and unresourceful my search methods are. So much of this blog is the product of just roaming hopefully around the Web. I believe Georgina came up in a report of an exhibition about a number of Victorian women who made similar proto-Surrealist images.

  3. Angie K Walker

    Really weird stuff. It’s good.

  4. Pingback: Los álbumes victorianos (Oh, my God!) | themarvelousalbum

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