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 Bedford Gardens)

Model Kate Manning posing for Sambourne, Monday 16 April 1888

(taken at 54 Bedford Gardens)

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 proMrs King at 18 Stafford Terrace in 1893vided 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.

Reid - Wed 17 July 1901 'The first Surprise'

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 their clothes.



Visits are by Guided Tours

Mid-September to Mid-June

18 Stafford Terrace, W8 7BH