William DOWNEY

(South Shields,1829-Londres, 1915)

downey william portrait

Jean-Claude SEGUIN


Daniel Downey (Monard, 1797-Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 02/12/1841) épouse (South Shields, 16/11/1817) Christiana Fowler (Kingston-upon-Hull, 1794-Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 02/01/1887). Descendance:


D'un père irlandais et d'une mère anglaise, les enfants Downey, James, Ann, John, Daniel, William et Christiana naissent à South Shields. La famille comporte de nombreux photographes. William commence comme charpentier et constructeur de bateau avant d'ouvrir un cabinet photographique avec son frère Daniel, lui même bottier. William réside alors à South Shields (recensement 1851).

Un premier atelier est inauguré à South Shields en 1855. La première mention dans la presse pourrait être de 1856 lorsque les frères William et Daniel (W & D.) Downey publient une annonce commerciale.

downey 1856 annonce
Newcastle Guardian, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, samedi 7 juin 1856, p. 1.

Le journal Shields Daily Gazette va leur consacrer un long article où l'on peut apprécier l'étendu de leur savoir et de leur talent :

Messrs W. & D. Downey, South Shields, having introduced great improvements in the photographic art, were induced to pay a visit their studio this week, in order that might become acquainted with them. The first thing to which our attention was directed was a beautiful apparatus for taking stereoscopic portraits, with double achromatic lens, which has been made expressly for Messrs Downey. The advantages it possesses are, that having a movement in the front, the operator enabled to give as much stereoscopic effect to the picture as may be desired. It is made larger than the ordinary stereoscopic apparatus, and is capable of taking two quarto sized portraits. Several portraits, groups, and views taken by the aid of this instrument, were shown to us, and were the finest we have ever seen ; and we have no doubt that Messrs Downey will have large demands for stereoscopic portraits. The stereoscope is a wonderful instrument, and it is a charming discovery. While photography portrays the sublime and the beautiful in nature and art, the stereoscope reproduces in all their roundness and prominence the objects and the scenes themselves, and they are seen as in the living eye, and they rise before us in startling reality. Messrs Downey are also enabled to take portraits on prepared cloth, which has very fine effect, and fully equal to glass. The advantages of this invention will be great to persons having relatives or friends at distance, to whom they are desirous to send their portraits through the post, or by any other means. In such cases there will be no fear of breakage. A saving of time is also obtained means of this invention, for previous to its discovery, considerable time was occupied in the transfer of the portrait from the glass to paper, to enable it to be sent to a distance. They can now be transmitted immediately they are taken. Photographs taken on thin metal, another new invention, were also submitted to our inspection, and they looked exceedingly well. We must not forget to mention that Messrs. Downey are now in a position to do what has never been attempted in the Northern photographic world, namely to take portraits during the night, without the light of the sun. For this purpose they have in their studio a patent apparatus, by which a number of excellent and truthful photographs of persons residing in the locality have already been taken. Messrs. Downey are evidently determined to give to the people of South Shields and its locality every improvement relating to photography, and for their spirited conduct in this respect they merit support. Those gentlemen are not novices in the profession, but have been long and successfully connected with it, and the portraits which they have produced have been universally admired both for their truthfulness and beauty. They are perfectly acquainted with those essential points which determine the character of portrait as an artistic production ; and they succeed not only in developing them well, but in giving the picture a good tone. The effect of light and shade, and the arrangement of the background and accessories are all minutely considered by them. In fact, they appear to be perfectly aware that photographic portraiture is not a mere mechanical art, but that good photographic portrait is something more than a successful piece of manipulation, though skill in this respect essential to success. With respect to the colouring of their superior portraits have reason to believe they are determined that nothing shall be wanting. Mr W. Downey has lately visited London, and while there he secured the services of three eminent artists. Specimens of the work of two of those gentlemen shown to us, and certainly they display great ability and taste. A visit to the studio of Messrs Downey quite a treat. It contains the portraits of many of the public men connected with this locality, among whom we may mention, K. Ingham, Esq, M.P., W. S. Lindsay, Esq, M.P., T. Glover, Esq, Mayor of Sooth Shields, three ex- Majors (Aid Tosbach, T. Stainton, and M. Stainton), T. Salmon, Esq, Town Clerk, Rev J. Carr, Dr. Winterboltom, &c. The portrait of the poet Gerald Massey, whose lectures in Sooth Shields occasioned so much gratification, also finds place in the gallery. Great improvements have recently been made in the studio of Messrs Downey, for the comfort and convenience of visitors, as well as for the greater development of that art which gratifies the best informed, and delights the least instructed. Although many of the portraits of Messrs Downey are finished in the highest style of the photographic art, yet their prices are so arranged that every one, whatever may be his station in life, may indulge in that domestic luxury—a photographic portrait of those near and dear to him.

North & South Shields Gazette, jeudi 4 mars 1858, p. 4.

Les Downey vont ainsi se faire un nom en photographiant la plupart des notoriétés locales d'une part et les habitants de la contrée d'autre part. En 1861, ils décident d'ouvrir un salon photographique à Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

downey william 1861 annonce
North & South Shields Gazette, jeudi 3 octobre 1861, p. 1.

William Downey réside alors à South Shields (recensement 1861). En quelques années, les deux frères vont gagner en notoriété et photographier des personnages en vue et des figures de l'aristocratie britannique :

During the visit of Messrs W. D. Downey, photographers, to London, they have had the honour of taking portraits of H.E.H: the Duchess of Cambridge, the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and their son Adolphus, Hereditary Prince of Mecklenburg; also, the Prince and Princess of Teck and family.

Newcastle Journal, Newcastlemardi 2 août 1870, p. 4.

Les Downey disposent également d'un studio à Londres, inauguré en 1863, et peuvent se prévaloir d'être les photographes de la Reine Victoria dès 1869 :

Il y avait juste seize ans, nous a dit M. Daniel Downey, que lui et son frère avaient été appelés à Balmoral pour la première fois, par ordre de la reine. Certainement c’était une faveur qui n’a pas été accordée à d’autres; mais il faut convenir que tout le monde ne sait pas profiter d’une occasion ou d’un privilège. A cette époque, il n’y avait de local approprié à la photographie, ni dans le château, ni dans ses dépendances; les deux frères durent s’estimer heureux de s’installer dans une chaumière de paysan. Ils n’y manquèrent pas de confortable : à peine arrivés, ils reçurent la visite du prince de Galles, qui, pour les mettre à l’abri de la famine, leur envoya immédiatement des provisions et du vin pour leur usage personnel.

BADEN, 1885: p. 14.

downey william reine victoria
W & D. Downey, Lond & Newcastle, La Reine Victoria, (fin du XIX siècle)

Dès 1871, William Downey est recensé à Londres où il figure encore dix ans plus tard (recensement 1881). Au nombre de ses collaborateurs dans la capitale britannique, on compte son fils William Edouard - actif depuis 1877 au moins - et Thomas James Harrison. En juillet 1881, Daniel décède. Sa succession va donner lieu à une situation plutôt compliquée et va opposer William Downey à sa belle-sœur :

This case came before Lord Justice Kay, in the Court of Justice, Chancery Division, on Saturday, on a summons adjourned from Chambers that one of these suits might set aside. The questions arose out of the death the late Daniel Downey, who died intestate on the 15th January, 1881, possessed of considerable property. During his lifetime he carried on business with his brother William, as a photographer, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and London. The deceased was twice married, and he left five children, three of whom were by the first marriage. An administration suit was instituted, the writ being issued on the 11th Oct., the plaintiff being the eldest son of the first marriage, by his next friend, his uncle Wm. The uncle was desirous of protecting the property for the infants, and was afraid that if left in the power of the widow, she being a young woman, might marry again, It would not be so safe as he desired it to be. The widow alleged against the uncle that he tried to prejudice the children of the first marriage against her, but this was denied on affidavit by the uncle, who stated she had always been a good stepmother to them. She also alleged that he had treated her rudely when trying to arrange with her for the sale of the Newcastle business, and that he was not a fit person to have the carriage of the administration decree. Mr Downey, however, denied that he had ever treated the widow with anything but courtesy.
The hearing of the case was resumed on Monday, and at the conclusion of the arguments Mr Justice Kay said it was summons for the conduct of certain proceedings under an administration order taken out on behalf of a Robert William Downey, an infant child of the intestate (a photographer at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. who died possessed of considerable wealth.), whose estate was being administered by tho next friend of the infant, his uncle, William Downey. On the 11th of October last a writ was issued in an administration action by R. W. Downey by W. Downey as his next friend. On the 24th the widow appeared to that action, and on the 25th summons was taken out, which was returnable on the 28th. The parties attended that summons, and it was then stated that administration order had been made in another matter upon the application of another infant child of the deceased. Elizabeth Jane Downey, by her next friend, Anthony Hall. That order was made the morning of the 28th on an originating summons. There was no doubt that that was entirely irregular, and contrary to the modern settled practice of the court. It was not right for any person interested in an estate, after proceedings had been taken for obtaining an administration decree, to go behind the back of those parties and get another administration order. One fixed rule was that where that was done, the person who instituted the first proceedings should, unless there was reason to the contrary, have the conduct: of the administration order. He (Mr Justice Kay) had been informed that Mr W. Downey, who instituted the first proceedings, was not a proper person to do so and the grounds stated were that he been in partnership with the intestate, and had a right of pre-emption of the business which he could have compelled the widow to sell him her share. He did not do that, but had entered into an agreement with her for the sale, which might probably be questioned. was also aid that his sobs had offered a bribe to the children the widow to induce her to sell to him at a low price. It was also said that that was introduced to prejudice the position of Mr W. Downey. If true, it would prejudice his position. He (Mr Justice Kay) would not determine that now, but it seemed to him that as the estate was to be the subject of litigation, it would be better to have some one as plaintiff’s next friend whose interest would not conflict with his duty. He therefore gave the conduct of the proceedings to Elizabeth James Downey by her next friend, Mr Anthony Hall, but as Mr Hall was entirely wrong in what he had done by getting the administration order he should not allow him any cost of the proceedings to come out of the estate. The costs of the other action would come out of the estate as far as that action had gone. He would stay all further proceedings in the suit of 25th October, and as regarded the costs of present proceedings, he would not give any. Affairs of this kind should be kept in the regular course.

The Shields Daily News, mercredi 8 février 1882, p. 4.

Après le décès de Daniel, en juillet 1881, l'entreprise va garder son nom "W. & D. Downey".

downey william 1883 annonce downey william 1883 annonce 2
The Newcastle daily Journal, Newcastle, mardi 6 mars 1883, p. 1.  The Newcastle daily Journal, Newcastle, mardi 26 juin 1883

Dans un ouvrage britannique datant des années 1880, on donne une description précise des ateliers londoniens de l'entreprise :

Les deux ateliers sont situés Ebury-Street,61. Une chambre vitrée vient d’être installée au n° 57.
Celle-ci est, sans contredit, très élégante. La façade (12m,80) regarde directement le nord. Un des côtés (4m,30) est formé par une muraille blanche, percée d’une seule fenêtre; les trois autres côtés et le toit peuvent être considérés comme vitrés totalement. Le tout étant en verre dépoli, la lumière est très douce, et d’un effet véritablement délicieux. La portion du toit qui fait face au midi est recouverte de planches fixées par des boulons; pendant l’hiver et quand le temps est sombre, on peut retirer ces planches ou en retirer une partie; mais il est bien entendu que, en général, elles doivent rester en place. On sait que les toitures de bois sont les plus fraîches de toutes; on n’en a pas moins pourvu à la ventilation.
On évite d’employer des toiles de fond, et l’on s’efforce de donner autant que possible à l’atelier l’apparence d’un salon. La muraille de plâtre est recouverte d’une peinture grise qui se rapproche de la nuance de la lavande, et la plinthe est remplacée par une bande de verre dépoli. Des draperies sont disposées à travers l’appartement ; des écrans mobiles permettent de produire des ombres suivant les besoins du moment. MM. Downey aiment placer leur modèle devant une fenêtre garnie d’une glace dépolie, située à une des extrémités de l’atelier. La lumière venant de cette fenêtre qui sert de fond, est naturellement très adoucie, mais elle produit un relief merveilleux : on croirait voir le modèle devant la fenêtre d’un salon. A côté de la fenêtre, des écrans mobiles, en forme de porte, aident à l’illusion. De l’autre extrémité de l’atelier, on ne voit pas les vitres, à cause d’un paravent qui se trouve sur le trajet.
Ce paravent est muni d’une porte; on n’a qu’à la tenir ouverte pendant l’opération : le modèle apparaîtra comme sous un vestibule ou comme dans une loge d’opéra.
Nous le répétons: on n’aperçoit pas, dans cet atelier, le moindre verre transparent.

BADEN, 1885: p. 13-14.

À partir d'octobre 1889, la "W. & D. Downey" va éditer de luxueux volumes biographiques accompagnés de portraits, The Cabinet Portrait Gallery. Cette publication mensuelle est éditée jusqu'en 1904.

Le Cinématographe (1896)

L'intérêt de William Downey pour le cinématographe apparaît aussi bref que conjoncturel. Ce sont leurs liens avec la maison royale britannique et, tout particulièrement, la reine Victoria, qui sont à l'origine de cette incursion dans le monde des images animées. C'est le 30 septembre que William Downey se retrouve au château de Balmoral afin de tourner un film sur la visite impérial. Voici comment un quotidien parmi tant d'autres relate la présence des photographes :

Yesterday's proceedings in connection with the visit to Upper Deeside of the Emperor and Empress of Russia were of a most interesting nature. In the forenoon their Imperial Majesties accompanied the Queen in Her Majesty's usual daily walk in the grounds of Balmoral Castle, and in the afternoon Her Majesty and the Emperor and Empress and several members of the Royal family paid a visit to the Duke and Duchess of Fife at Mar Lodge.
It may be mentioned that yesterday's visit was of a purely private nature. None of the Russian suite accompanied Their Imperial Majesties. During the seventy seconds which elapsed between the time the carriages drew up at the entrance to Mar Lodge and the entry of the Royal and Imperial party Mr W. D. Downey, the well-known photographer, of Elbury Street, London, took no fewer than twelve hundred photographs by means of the cinematescope, the latest invention in connection with photography.

Aberden Press and Journal, jeudi 1er octobre 1896, p. 5.

Si la présence du photographe londonien ne fait aucun doute, il apparaît dans la presse comme une entité plutôt que comme un individu spécifique. On peut donc penser qu'il a été assisté par son collaborateur Thomas James Harrison plus au fait du fonctionnement des appareils de projections et constructeur du "Grand Kinematograph" qui a servi à prendre les vues animées Queen Victoria and Tzar Nicholas II at Balmoral :

I may be added that while the Royal carriages were passing along the avenue at Mar Lodge, and when the party was being received by their distinguished host and hostess, Mr. W. N. [sic] Downey, London, took no fewer than 1200 photographs in 10 seconds, by the Animatograph process.

Daily Record, jeudi 1er octobre 1896, p. 5.

Ces films sont d'autant plus intéressants que ce sont les premières images animées de la famille royale, bien avant le jubilé de 1897. Contrairement à leurs neveux James et Frederick Downey, l'intérêt de William pour les photographies en mouvement reste limité à cette unique expérience.

Et après... (1897-1915)

Au cours des années suivantes, William Downey, toujours sous le label "W. & D. Downey", va poursuivre ses activités photographiques et continue d'asseoir sa réputation avec l'aide de son fils William Edouard. L'une de ses photographies les plus remarquables va réunir pas moins de cinq têtes couronnées :

Mr. Downey, the head of the firm of W. and D. Downey, is known as the royal photographer par excellence. Last Sunday at Windsor Mr. Downey took what is probably the most remarkable royal photograph that he has ever made. he had the honour of photographing in one group three Kings and five Queens. We publish the group as the front page of the present number.

The Illustrated London News, Londres, 23 novembre 1907, p. 746.

downey william 1907 photographie
The Illustrated London News, Londres, 23 novembre 1907.

L'année 1908 est marquée par le décès du fils de William Downey qui a également été l'un de ses collaborateurs :

Then has just passed away a notable Shields man, in William Edward Downey, son of Mr William Downey, one of the greatest of English photographers, and the surviving head of the firm of W. and D. Downey. His death took place at his residence, 88 Carlyle Square. Chelsea, after a brief illness, at the age of 54. The deceased was born in Laygate Street, South Shields, but was still in his boyhood when his parents removed to Newcastle, where the firm received many Royal warrants to proceed to Balmoral. Eventually in 1875, Messrs Downey went to London, where their handsome reception rooms, adorned with the photographs of all notabilities of the time, testify to their success. Mr Daniel Downey died 1888 [sic], . and the business has since been conducted by Mr William Downey.
During later years, owing to his father's great age (80), the deceased, Mr Wm. Edward, has been at the head of affairs, and many distinctions continued to fall to the firm through him. He was in charge of the camera when what is known as the “unique Royal group'’ was taken, on which were the Royal heads of England, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Norway -four queens, two kings, one emperor, and one empress. He was a cousin of Mr Fred. Downey, of South Shields, who was often his companion in his visits to Royalty.

The Shields Daily News, mercredi 2 décembre 1908, p. 4.

En 1911, il est encore recensé à Londres. Il décède en 1915.


H. BADEN PRITCHARD, Les Ateliers photographiques de l'Europe, Paris, Gauthier-Villars, 1885, p. 12-16.


<18>/09/1896 Grande-B*retagne Sunderland People's Palace  Living photographs