Robert Howlett

Pioneering Photographer
1831 - 1858


Robert Howlett albumen print, early 1850s [Norfolk Castle Museum]

Robert Howlett - an albumen print, from the early 1850s [Courtesy of Norfolk Castle Museum]

Robert Howlett (born 1831 in Suffolk, died 10 Bedford Place, Campden Hill, Kensington, London, 2 Dec 1858), was a pioneering British photographer whose pictures are widely exhibited in major galleries. The young Robert grew up in Longham Vicarage when his father was vicar of Longham Church. Howlett produced portraits of Crimean War heroes, genre scenes and landscapes. His photographs include the iconic picture of Isambard Kingdom Brunel which was part of a commission by The Times to document the construction of the world's largest steamship, the SSGreat Eastern.

He exhibited at the London Photographic Society and published “On the Various Methods of Printing Photographic Pictures upon Paper, with Suggestions for Their Preservation He worked in partnership with Joseph Cundall at "The Photographic Institution" at New Bond Street, London.

Howlett made photographic studies for the artist William Powell Frith's painting of The Derby Day which was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art.

Howlett was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to photograph the frescoes in the new drawing-room at Buckingham Palace, make copies of the paintings by Raphael and make a series of portraits called 'Crimean Heroes' which was exhibited in 1857 the Photographic Society of London's annual exhibition.

Howlett died in 1858, aged 27. The cause of death was probably as a result of over-exposure to the arsenic and mercury used in the photographic process. The Illustrated Times praised him as "one of the most skilful photographers of the day".

A selection of prints by Robert Howlett