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This exhibition is in the past. View our current exhibitions.

Fenton's Crimean Commission: 8 March - June 1855

Fenton was commissioned to go to the Crimean War by the Manchester-based publishers Thomas Agnew & Sons. Agnew’s was one of the leading publishers, printsellers and dealers at the time, and the firm saw the war as an opportunity to sell new images to a public hungry for information. The war coincided with an increased number of public art exhibitions as the middle classes in particular had more time and money to spend on leisure activities.

At the same time, Agnew’s also commissioned the British historical painter Thomas Barker (1815–82) to produce a large oil painting depicting the expected allied victory at Sevastopol. Fenton’s photographs were to be used as source material by Barker. This enabled the artist to claim absolute truthfulness and accuracy in his portraits.

Barker incorporated versions of at least 50 of Fenton’s photographs into his painting. Some photographs have been copied almost exactly; others have been reversed or combined with other images, with elements from some photographs appearing alongside people from other works. The painting was completed in 1856 and the associated engraving was published by Agnew’s in 1859. A key was also produced, identifying each individual in the work, in which Fenton’s role was explicitly acknowledged.

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