Thomas J. Nevin: heavily tinted cartes

This portrait by Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923) of a serious young man wearing a three piece suit, a blue bowtie and a fob watch on a chain buttoned to his vest features a stereoscopic viewer. It was taken by T. J. Nevin at his studio, The City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town. The stereoscopic viewer may have pertained to the young man’s occupation – he may have been one of Nevin’s studio assistants, for example – or it was a merely a prop on which the poser could rest his arm.

The photograph dates from ca. February 1872. The verso bears Thomas Nevin’s government contractor stamp with the Royal Arms insignia of lion and unicorn rampant. This type of stamp was printed for Thomas Nevin’s commission to photograph Tasmanian prisoners at the Port Arthur and Hobart Gaols from 1872 while still a commercial photographer; on his appointment as a full-time civil servant with the Municipal Police Office and Hobart City Corporation in 1876, his use of this stamp signifying joint copyright with the government was unnecessary. He produced more than a thousand photographs of prisoners between 1872 and ca. 1886 with the assistance of his younger brother Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Gaol.

This young man may have been one Thomas Nevin’s apprentices or assistants, and most likely an employee of the Hobart City Corporation (HCC).

The stereoscopic apparatus pictured in the photograph is a double lens stereograph viewer. A box of this size could hold a large number of stereo cards; turning the wooden handle (underneath the young man’s right hand) changed the card being viewed.

Other details of interest are the studio furnishings: the table with griffin-shaped legs and  the upholstered chair covered with a protective material feature in many of these full-length studio portraits. The mandatory curtain draped down the right side of the image was a conventional framing device. These studio furnishings appear in several extant portraits by Thomas Nevin of his family members and private clients taken between 1870 and 1876..

Verso of man standing next to camera

Verso: T. J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp with the Royal Arms insignia.

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Overall, this portrait of a well-dressed young man with dreamy eyes posing with a stereoscopic viewer was intended to ascribe middle class status to both the photographer and his private clientele in 1870s Hobart Town.

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This is another heavily hand-tinted photograph with the same palette taken by Thomas J. Nevin before 1876, and reprinted by Samuel Clifford between 1876 and 1878, the year of Clifford’s retirement.  It is a full-length carte-de-visite of a young man in a short jacket, blueberry-tinted necktie and mulberry-tinted curtains. The verso, signed  “Clifford & Nevin, Hobart Town” was inscribed by Samuel Clifford. He inserted a notice in the Mercury, 17th January, 1876, stating that Thomas Nevin had transferred the interest in his negatives to Clifford’s studio, and that he – Clifford – would reprint them for Nevin’s clients and friends on request.

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At least the diamond-patterned carpet in the portrait of the man with the stereoscope was spared the big red blobs of this portrait. Both of these photographs were coloured after their purchase by members of a Northern Tasmanian family, and probably by the children of the family. They were not coloured in this fashion by Thomas J. Nevin or his studio colourists. Examples of Nevin’s hand-tinting of cartes of his own family members show considerable artistry.  Some of his photographs of convicts (i.e. prisoners) were also coloured for heightened realism to assist the public in recognizing escapees, and these were displayed in Nevin’s shop window, on the walls of the Municipal Police Office at the Hobart Town Hall, and in the windows of the Mercury newspaper offices.

For a comprehensive view of the life and work of Tasmanian photographer Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923), visit the weblog developed by descendants, readers and collectors.

From © The Private Collection of John & Robyn McCullagh 2006 -2010. ARR.

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