JOSEPH EDGAR BOEHM, R.A.
The photographic portrait of the esteemed sculptor and medalist Joseph Edgar Boehm, R.A., 1st Baronet of Wetherby Gardens, was taken by Frank Dudman for Joseph Parkin Mayall in 1883 and published in July 1884 by Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington. It depicts Boehm in his studio at The Avenue, 76 Fulham Road, London, surrounded by busts and sculptures of varying sizes, including the bust of Thomas Henry Huxley to the right of the artist. The bust of Huxley serves as the focal point of the portrait, whereas Boehm is seated off-center, towards the left of the composition. Moreover, the bust seems to have been deliberately placed so that its eyes stare right at Boehm, directing the viewer’s attention to the artist, instead of the sculpture. This engagement with the relationship between the artist and his works continues with a terracotta portrait of the artist by Boehm's studio assistant, Robert Glassby (1835–1892), placed directly above the artist himself. Surely these photographic interventions are meant to call on viewers to compare the photographic likeness of Boehm to the portraits in the studio.
The architectural drawing splayed across the artist’s lap, his casual pose, with legs crossed and elbows resting on the arms of the chair, and the plan and elevation of an unidentified building that has apparently been tossed onto the floor may all be Mayall’s attempt to present Boehm as if he has just been interrupted in a moment of leisure. It is easy to imagine the photographer instructing him to look up so that he could capture the stern expression on the artist’s face. Like many, if not all, of the portraits in Artists at Home, the photograph captures much of the studio and its furnishings, as well as the sitter himself. A single light source seems to shine towards the center of the composition, illuminating the vast floor in front Boehm, as well as the artist and the sculptures that align with where he is sitting. Apart from the works of art themselves, there is not a lot of artistic paraphernalia. Instead, empty frames are organized along the wall to the artist’s right, while a large framed picture with a line of smaller ones beneath are hung on the wall to his left. The rest of his studio is sparsely decorated with dark and ornate furniture. The viewer is simultaneously invited into and blocked from entering the studio: the richly decorated wooden chair with a plush seat that lines up besides Boehm’s is unoccupied, as if it is an invitation for the guest to sit down; but the thickly rolled-up stacks of paper and the heavy shawl thrown onto the chair makes sitting down inconvenient, and possibly unwelcome. This may have been the effect the artist—or photographer—intended: to have a portrait that highlights the mystery of the workspace where creation takes place by capturing its likeness, but ultimately making the creative space inaccessible to visitors.
In March 1891, a few months after Boehm's death, J. P. Mayall produced new prints of Frank Dudman's photograph from the original negative made for Artists at Home. "The representation loses nothing of the firmness of outline which is sometimes sacrificed in enlarging from a negative," wrote a critic in the Times, "and the shades of tint appear to be as delicately handled as in the original photogravure" ("The Late Sir Edgar Boehm," Times (London), March 3, 1891, p. 13).
Mayall presented two of the new photographic prints, substantially enlarged, to Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in honor of the sitter; these remain today in the Royal Collection. The first is the photograph reproduced in Artists at Home; the second image, reproduced above, is a gelatin silver print with some overpainting that corresponds to Dudman's description of the last of three photographs he registered for copyright in September 1883: "Photograph of Mr Boehm RA & interior of his studio at 76 Fulham Rd. S.W. Leaning on pedestal." (The third of the photographs, described as the sculptor "working on bust of Lord Wolseley," has not yet come to light.)