The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Henry Pointer's cats

Henry Pointer's cats

Henry Pointer (1822-1889) was a Brighton photographer who produced an extraordinary series of cartes-de-visite featuring cats, either in whimsical poses or engaged in anthropomorphic activities.

Born at Marcham in Berkshire on 12 November 1822, his father John was an agricultural labourer. At the time of the 1861 census, Henry had already moved to in Brighton, but not yet become a photographer; he gave his profession as ‘Drilling Master.' This is confirmed by an announcement in the Brighton Gazette (27 February 1862) which advertised Henry's availability as a master in 'Military Drill.' According to the notice: 'Mr Pointer (late 1st Life Guards) begs to state that he holds Classes and gives Private Lessons at his Drilling Room, Lancaster House, College Road. - Schools and families attended.'

The census also shows that Henry’s wife, Rosa, was born in Soho in or around 1824; she gave ‘Artist’ as her profession. The couple had two children, Harry, aged 10, and Myra, aged 9, both born in the London district of Regent’s Park. Ten years later, at the time of the 1871 census, the family were living at 15, Bloomsbury Place [Brighton] and Henry gave ‘Photographer’ as his profession. The family had no servants. In 1881 Henry gave his name as ‘Harry’ but he was still a photographer, now living at 9, Bloomsbury Place. Rosa’s name was mistakenly recorded as ‘Myra’ and she was once again described as ‘Artist’. Their daughter, Myra, was unmarried and living at home. The family had one domestic servant.

Henry Pointer died at 20, Bloomsbury Place on 4 January 1889, at the age of 66. The cause of death was ‘Pericarditis, 7 days’. The death certificate describes him as a ‘Photographic Artist’, so presumably he was in business right up to the end of his life. The death was registered by J. Drummond, Pointer’s brother-in-law.

In his A Seaside Album: Photographs and Memory (Philip Wilson, 2003), Philippe Garner writes that ‘credit should go to the remarkable Harry Pointer for exerting a seemingly hypnotic spell on the cats who posed for him in every conceivable guise. “An eminent photographer,” we are told, “has produced a series of cartes that cannot fail to be very popular…It was a good idea so to train a number of cats as to make them excellent, attentive and obedient ‘sitters’…it seems as if each knew precisely what he wanted, is gentle or fierce, or listless or eager, or docile or angry, according to the character depicted” [The Art-Journal, 1876]’. According to printed text on the back of one carte dated 1872, Pointer had by this date already published in excess of one hundred such images.


Code: 124601
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