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George Washington Wilson

1823 - 1893

George Washington Wilson
©2019 Gazetteer for Scotland

George Washington Wilson

Pioneering photographer, noted for his early studies of the Royal family. Wilson was born near Banff, the son of a crofter. He studied art in Edinburgh, London and then Paris, where he worked first as a portrait miniaturist. He also learned the calotype photographic process, returning to Aberdeen to set up a photographic studio in 1852. Wilson became a successful portrait photographer, including Queen Victoria amongst his subjects. Yet, by constructing a portable darkroom in which he could prepare his plates, Wilson was able to travel around the country taking landscape photographs. With this he was able to accept a royal commission to record the construction of Balmoral Castle on nearby Deeside (from 1853), and developed his long association with royalty, which resulted in the award a Royal Warrant (1873).

Wilson's photographs using the new "wet-collodion" process were both technically and artistically excellent and he became noted as the best photographer in Scotland at the time. As his fame developed, he was able to travel overseas, taking photographs as far afield as Gibraltar, Morocco, South Africa and Australia.

Wilson was also commercially successful, building larger premises in 1876. By the 1880s, his company had become the one of the largest and best known photographic publishers in the world, producing millions of cartes-de-visite, postcards and stereograms for tourists, as well as portraits for exhibition.

The company was liquidated in 1908, yet, because Wilson took such great care in the production of his plates and prints, a vast collection survive today. In 1958, Wilson's 94 year-old son, Charles, gave what was thought to be the entire collection of glass plate negatives to Aberdeen Public Library, now held by the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums. However in the 1970s a further 45,000 plates were discovered in the loft of an Aberdeen house and these were subsequently given to the University of Aberdeen.

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