The Female Model
An artist had to be able to draw from the nude
and Sambourne purchased a great number of nude studies, both male
and female, before he took up photography.
Sambourne's early photographs of female models
were taken in the studio of the artist Edwin Austin Abbey
(1852-1911) at 54 Bedford Gardens. The poses were often based on
the classical female nude or the many prints of French
academic painters in possession of Sambourne. In Sambourne's eyes
these photos he took aspired to the status of art.
Model Kate Manning
posing for Sambourne, Monday 16 April 1888
(taken at 54
By late 1891 Abbey has left Bedford Gardens leaving Sambourne to
relocate his photo sessions closer to home at 18 Stafford Terrace .
Up until this point Sambourne had used his own home only to take
photographs of family, friends, colleagues and the more acceptable
form of female modelling the draped model. It is telling that on
the rare occasions when his wife Marion was away Sambourne
organised for female models to come to 18 Stafford. One wonders if
the servants were sworn to secrecy on these occasions or did an
artist’s wife expect such behaviour and the whole household accept
it as quite normal?
In 1893 Sambourne joined a Camera Club
which provided models for gentlemen to
photograph. He frequented this establishment once or
twice a week for fifteen years and amassed a huge collection of
photographs which formed the basis of his Image Library which he
would use for reference.
But why would Sambourne need to take photographs of the naked or
draped female form? They were certainly useful as there were many
occasions when nymphs, goddesses and sprites were called for in his
drawings. However there are far more photos of girls in various
stages of undress than were strictly necessary and most of these
were never used in his work.
Though broadly reflecting the classical
studies of his studio work there is an undoubted erotic nature
to a number of Sambourne photographs; coupled with not all the
images being used for his work the inevitable speculation
about Sambourne's relationship with his models is formed. Linley
Sambourne had a busy, happy family life and was adored by his wife
and children, but Marion’s long history of poor health may have
meant that sexual relations were terminated fairly early in their
married life and he might have seeked diversion elsewhere.
In his diary of 1906, Sambourne annotates his
previous photographic sessions with one of his favourite
models Miss Reid, with notes such as 'First', 'Best', 'Twice' and
'Climax'. These comments could innocently refer to photographs but
could also hint at a more intimate relationship. Indeed Sambourne
records having tea with Miss Reid at Librerty's in 1901 and kept up
regular correspondence with her suggesting at least a friendship.
In any event his diary reveals he maintained social relations with
a number of models outside of the studio and points to his having
concern for their welfare.
Miss Reid, 17 July
1901 'The First Surprise'
Some the models that the Camera Club employed
do look painfully thin, close to starvation. They probably only
took their clothes off as a last resort – to be an artist’s model
was marginally more respectable trade to that of a street
prostitute. Sambourne appears to have sympathised with these
models’s plight and noted in his diary when he heard that one has
died in tragic circumstances or had fallen on hard times. There are
also hints in correspondence that he gave extra money to the girls
he felt sorry for. However many of the girls in his photographs
appear happy and confident, with no inhibitions about removing