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E. A. Hornel: From Camera to Canvas – the first major exhibition on the artist for over 35 years – will demonstrate how photography underpins almost all the work of Scottish artist Edward Atkinson Hornel.


Taking place at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh, this is the first time in a major exhibition that a selection of Hornel's paintings from Broughton House & Garden (cared for by the National Trust for Scotland) will be displayed alongside examples from his photographic collection. The exhibition will trace the evolution of his painting style from the 1880s to the late 1920s, showing the continuing and increasing impact of photography.


Book your free slot here: https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/e-hornel-camera-canvas

Artists featured in this Curation: Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
10 artworks
  • Edward Atkinson Hornel, 1864–1933

    Hornel was born in Australia to British parents, but lived there for only two years before the family returned to Scotland to live in Kirkcudbright. Hornel studied painting in Edinburgh and Antwerp in the 1880s, and early in his career became associated with the Glasgow School of artists, initially sharing their interest in naturalistically painted rural subjects. However, from 1891 until his death in 1933, Hornel's style and subject matter were permanently shaped by an interest in photography.


  • Early in his career, Hornel was interested in painting rural, Scottish subjects, generally in a naturalistic manner. He shared this interest with other painters associated with the Glasgow School. Kirkcudbright, which is visible in the background, was Hornel’s home for much of his life. He purchased Broughton House there in 1900.


    One of Hornel's closest friends and colleagues early in his career was George Henry; they travelled to Japan together in 1893–94. Henry’s early works share a similar naturalistic feel to those of Hornel. However, Henry would later introduce Hornel to a brighter, more decorative way of painting, and encourage his interest in more fantastical subject matter.


    Harvesting, Kirkcudbright, E. A. Hornel, 1885, oil on canvas
    Cat_54_Harvesting_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • From Camera to Canvas

    Hornel compiled a collection of c.1,700 photographs. From these, he chose subjects for his paintings, in many instances copying poses directly from photographs onto the canvas. Photography influenced the formats of his canvases and the compositions of his works. Against the blurred backgrounds of his paintings, faces and hands often stand out with almost photographic clarity.


    By looking at Hornel's paintings next to his photographs, we can also reveal some of the complicated reality behind the canvases. His hundreds of photographs of girls and young women are discomfiting to a modern eye in their single-mindedness and their anonymity. Women and girls are reduced to exotic 'types', stereotypical motifs and innocent fantasies.


  • By 1891, Hornel had begun experimenting with photography. Summer is the first of his paintings we can link directly to a photograph. You can also see the impact of George Henry’s bright, decorative style on Hornel. The subject of girls in a landscape like this is one Hornel would return to frequently throughout his career.

    Summer 1891
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas
    H 128.3 x W 103 cm
    Walker Art Gallery
    Summer
    Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery

  • This photograph in the E. A. Hornel collection at Broughton House & Garden is clearly a direct model for the girl on the left of Summer. The photograph must have been created before 1891, probably near Kirkcudbright. Although Hornel's style would change over time, in this example we can see the roots of a technique that would last for the next 40 years.


    A Kirkcudbright girl holding a hat, attributed to E. A. Hornel, c.1891, glass plate negative
    Cat_47_Kirkcudbright_Girl_with_a_Hat_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Hornel’s first trip to Japan in 1893–94 was crucial for him. He joined the Photographic Society of Japan and collected numerous photos. These provided him with Japanese poses and imagery that he could take away and copy. They influenced the shape and composition of his paintings of Japanese and non-Japanese subjects.

    Two Geishas 1894
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas on panel
    H 75.6 x W 32.5 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Two Geishas
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • The often slender format, vertical composition and depictions of beautiful women in the Japanese photos Hornel collected drew heavily on traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Hornel admired Japanese art (even if he was scornful of Western-influenced Japanese art) and collected books of Japanese woodblock prints. However, it was Japanese photography (like this) that had the biggest impact on his art. While his art books remained pristine, his photos were often marked with pin holes and paint splashes.


    'A Singing Girl', Kusakabe Kimbei, between 1881 and 1894, albumen print
    A2_Panel_Singing_Girl_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • By the time he painted Seashore Roses, Hornel had refined a way of composing paintings which he would use for the rest of his life. Girls with photographically clear features – their poses copied closely or even directly from photos – in front of a colourful background became a constant theme. The landscape visible in this painting is Brighouse Bay, an area of coast close to Hornel's home of Kirkcudbright, that crops up again and again in his work.

    Seashore Roses c.1907
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas
    H 122.8 x W 154.3 cm
    Museums & Galleries Edinburgh – City of Edinburgh Council
    Seashore Roses
    Photo credit: Museums & Galleries Edinburgh – City of Edinburgh Council

  • Accounts from some of those who posed for Hornel suggest it was considered a privilege to do so, and that they enjoyed the experience. Their mothers brought them to the studio, where Elizabeth would look after them, and the girls were paid for their time.


    However, as a prominent and wealthy male landowner in Kirkcudbright, Hornel was in a position of considerable power. It is hard to ascertain how a working-class family would say no to allowing their daughter to pose for such a well-respected artist. The photos themselves bear witness to the unequal economic and social divide between artist and sitter, while also capturing the grubby, gap-toothed reality of the girls behind Hornel’s floral fantasies.


    A Kirkcudbright girl in a black dress facing away from the camera, attributed to E. A. Hornel, c.1906-07, glass plate negative
    A2_Panel_Kirkcudbright_Girl_in_Black_Dress_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • In 1907, Hornel and Elizabeth travelled to Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) to visit their cousin James. Hornel took hundreds of photographs in the country of women and girls for use in his paintings. Here, the central pose is from a photo of a Sinhalese girl making lace, while the composition seems to have been inspired by a photo of women playing drums. As with his Kirkcudbright photos, this free mixing of activities suggests he was more interested in using the shapes of Sri Lankan young women and girls to present an aesthetically pleasing, 'exotic' fantasy for his audience than the reality of the country.

    Lace Makers, Ceylon 1908
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas
    H 61 x W 51.5 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Lace Makers, Ceylon
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • This photograph shows a child making beeralu lace. Judging by other photographs contemporaneous with Hornel's visit, children did not usually carry out beeralu lace-making. Photographic documentation of lace-makers usually shows older women. This, and the fact the models are so smartly dressed, makes it possible this scene was staged for Hornel.


    A Sinhalese girl in Sri Lanka undertaking beeralu lace-making, attributed to E. A. Hornel, 1907, glass plate negative
    One_girl_kneeling_PF0193_M70_9_2016_1009_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Perhaps unintentionally, Hornel's photos also reflect the inherently unequal conditions of the two main communities in the then British colony. He photographed members of both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities, but did so in rather different ways. Photos like this of girls from the dominant Sinhalese community show them sitting demurely on woven mats. They are often in clean white clothing and captured spinning, playing the rabana drum (as here) or even praying. By contrast, the Tamil girls are shown in dark clothes working hard in tea plantations, or squatting on the bare earth.


    Five Sinhalese girls in Sri Lanka playing the rabana, attributed to E. A. Hornel, 1907, glass plate negative
    Five_girls_sitting_playing_a_large_drum_PF0197_M70_13_2016_1013_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Hornel was surprised by the cool green colours of the Sri Lankan landscapes. Paintings like this show he retained this impression of colour, heightened here by the contrast with the red saris of the Tamil tea pickers. Their poses come from various photographs, a technique he would use more and more.

    Ceylonese Tea Pickers
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas
    H 122 x W 152.5 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Ceylonese Tea Pickers
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Hornel photographed both pearl divers and tea pickers while in Sri Lanka. However, only the young women picking tea – not the male pearl divers – made it into his paintings. This photograph is an illustration of the typical way he captured the Tamil (as opposed to Sinhalese) women in Sri Lanka - shown working hard in tea plantations, or squatting on the bare earth.


    Three Tamil women in Sri Lanka Picking tea, attributed to E. A. Hornel, 1907, glass plate negative
    Three_Ceylonese_women_picking_tea_leaves_2016_1127_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • In 1920, Hornel travelled around the world with his sister Elizabeth, returning home in 1921. During this trip, he visited Myanmar, a destination known to Western travellers as an 'exotic' location. Numerous travelogues documenting visits to the country were published in the 1890s and 1900s. He visited Mandalay, probably reaching it by boat on the Irrawaddy River.

    Burmese Maidens 1922–1927
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas on panel
    H 56 x W 23 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Burmese Maidens
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • In Mandalay, he photographed dancers and musicians procured for him by a theatre manager. Poses from these photos appear in paintings of both Myanmar and Scottish subjects. In focusing on the twisting bodies and cocked arms and hands of the dancers, Hornel’s paintings conform to the usual Western representation of Myanmar dancing. Hornel reduced his dancers to anonymous 'exotic' symbols, and used titles that emphasised their 'exotic' nature like Memories of Mandalay. On his return to Scotland, Hornel photographed Scottish girls posing in ways similar to the dancers. He was not concerned with the identity of his models, only the possibility of using their bodies to create a commercially viable, ‘exotic’ version of reality.


    A Myanmar dancer in white on a floral rug, facing away from the camera, attributed to E. A. Hornel, 1920, glass plate negative
    Mandalay_Dancer_2015_8157_M2_4_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Hornel was content to treat photographs from Japan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar as generically ‘exotic’. Hornel almost certainly reached Mandalay via the Irrawaddy, but (possibly for practical reasons), does not seem to have photographed it. Instead, his paintings of the river appear to have been fabricated from photos gathered in Sri Lanka or Japan.

    Water Carriers on the Banks of the Irrawaddy 1923
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas
    H 56 x W 23 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Water Carriers on the Banks of the Irrawaddy
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Although the previous painting supposedly represents Myanmar, you can see the girl on the right seems to have been copied from this Sri Lankan photograph. The painting’s vertical format also mirrors Japanese Yokohama shashin. The nominally Myanmar setting of these paintings does not provide any geographical or anthropological detail. The women and girls instead inhabit a non-specific ‘foreign’ land that could easily be Sri Lanka or Japan; their defining feature is merely their apparent ‘exoticism’ to the Western gaze.


    A Sinhalese woman bathing, attributed to E. A. Hornel, 1907, glass plate negative
    Girl_in_a_white_dress_2015_8284_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Hornel travelled on to Japan for his second visit to the country after Myanmar. After this trip, the way he stitched poses from multiple photos together became increasingly less creative. Here, the same model appears three times in the same painting. In the background is Mount Fuji – a stereotypical image of Japan – instead of the plain backdrop of the photos.

    Three Japanese Peasants (Japanese Dancers) 1921–1925
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas
    H 63.5 x W 76 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Three Japanese Peasants (Japanese Dancers)
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • For Hornel, the camera was a way of documenting poses for his paintings, and the girls seem to have been nothing more than objects to be arranged for his paintings. In his collection, there are numerous photographs of hands and feet, elbows, arms and legs. Hornel simply took what he needed from numerous photos, and stitched them together to compose his paintings. The three girls in Three Japanese Peasants are in fact the same girl repeated three times.


    Two Japanese girls posing with baskets in a studio, possibly E. A. Hornel, probably 1921, glass plate negative
    A2_Panel_Two_japanese_girls_dressed_in_kimonoes_2015_3343_PH0158_M58_7_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Hornel may have been able to attend photo shoots like this thanks to his membership of the Photographic Society of Japan. The images taken during these sessions provided Hornel with a more dynamic range of poses than the carefully arranged Yokohama shashin. However, the subject matter remained the same.


    Two Japanese girls holding baskets in a studio, possibly E. A. Hornel, probably 1921, glass plate negative
    A2_Panel_Two_japanese_girls_2015_3346_PH0159_M58_8_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Although Hornel copied poses directly from photo to painting, he made subtle tweaks to appeal to his Western audience. The solemn figure in the photo smiles in the painting. Her muted kimono is painted a more garish red. Rather than a screen (as in the photo below), Hornel adds his signature frenzied, floral background.

    Japanese Musician 1921–1925
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas on panel
    H 45.5 x W 35.5 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Japanese Musician
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • While studio photoshoots provided Hornel with a dynamic range of poses, hand-coloured tourist photos called Yokohama shashin like this were also influential. He adopted their often slender, vertical format for his paintings of Japanese and other ‘exotic’ subjects. He also took the subject of bijin (beautiful women) seen in shashin as inspiration.


    A Japanese woman playing a shamisen, attributed to Tamamura Kōzaburō, before 1921, Yokohama shashin print
    Cat_2_Japanese_Woman_Playing_a_Shamisen_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • Hornel’s style reached its ultimate expression in late paintings such as this. The background of Brighouse Bay appears as a standardised backdrop in many of Hornel’s works from this period, while his complete dependence on photographs for the figures of the girls is clear from the image below.

    Brighouse Bay, Wild and Burnet Roses 1929
    Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864–1933)
    Oil on canvas
    H 122 x W 152.5 cm
    National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden
    Brighouse Bay, Wild and Burnet Roses
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden

  • E. A. Hornel: From Camera to Canvas will run at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh from 7 November to 14 March 2021.


    Read more about the work that has gone into putting on the exhibition here: https://www.nts.org.uk/stories/behind-the-scenes-of-the-from-camera-to-canvas-exhibition


    Book your free slot to visit here: https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/e-hornel-camera-canvas


    Buy the book E. A. Hornel: From Camera to Canvas here: https://www.nts.org.uk/shop/e-a-hornel-from-camera-to-canvas.html


    Two Kirkcudbright girls in Hornel's studio, attributed to E. A. Hornel, before 1929, glass plate negative
    A2_Panel_Two_girls_kneeling_together_M41_7_2016_1148_jpg
    Photo credit: National Trust for Scotland, Broughton House & Garden