The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Oliver Sarony

Oliver Sarony

A carte-de-visite believed to be a self-portrait by Oliver Sarony. One of the most commercially successful photographers of his day, Sarony operated a studio in the fashionable resort of Scarborough. His premises comprised no less than 98 rooms and up to 110 people were employed there at any one time. When he died in 1879, the turnover of his studio was estimated at £20,000, and this in a season that only lasted three months.

Born Olivier François Xavier Sarony in Quebec in 1820, his name was Anglicized to Oliver some time soon after his arrival in England in 1843. He operated first as an itinerant daguerreotypist and is known to have worked at different times in Bradford, Chesterfield, Mansfield, Huddersfield, Hull, Lincolnshire, and Doncaster. In 1854 he settled briefly in Wiesbach, before spending a year in Cambridge and then another in Norwich, finally settling in Scarborough in 1857.

The studio that he commissioned architects John and David Petch to build for him was one of the grandest in Europe; the Scarborough Gazette called it ‘an establishment with every convenience for carrying out Photography to perfection.’ Designed to impress his clients, it included a gallery long enough to place the camera 40 feet from the sitter with a direct north light. Built in the Louis XV style, Sarony called the premises Gainsborough House.

The business prospered, not only from Scarborough’s annual influx of royalty, nobility and gentry but also as a result of the various technological innovations that the photographer invented and patented. A major part of his business was the production of high quality photographs of paintings, for which he exploited the benefits of the new carbon process. Another important source of revenue was the production of large portraits, photographic enlargements finished in oils by skilful painters. By 1871, his studio was said to be the largest photographic establishment in Europe, but Sarony began to suffer from diabetes and grew increasing more debilitated. He collapsed in town one day and died at his home on 30 August 1879. He was buried in Scarborough cemetery.

The business continued into the twentieth century under the name Sarony & Co.. For some time after the death of its founder, the studio was managed by Samuel Waind Fisher, the husband of Oliver’s niece, Jennie, daughter of the New York photographer Napoleon Sarony.

It is thought that this portrait shows Sarony wearing the silver medal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, which he received for his bravery during a storm at Scarborough on 2 November 1861.


Code: 125767
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