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H6868 Photographic positive, ambrotype, hand-tinted, studio portrait of a seated woman, collodion / paint / glass / wood / paper / metal / velvet, photographer unknown, place of production unknown, 1854-1865. Click to enlarge.

Hand-tinted ambrotype of a seated woman

  • 1850-60
This photograph is one of the few surviving hand-painted ambrotypes with links to Australia. While millions of these ambrotype photographs were produced around the world and many thousands in Australia remarkably few have survived that can be linked to Australian society during the 1850s and 1860s. Although the sitter in the portrait is currently unidentified the museum recognises the importance of maintaining its collection of ambrotypes as examples of the fashion and early photographic processes in Australia in this period. This photograph also has a distinctive painted backdrop and it is hoped that research may at some future date identify the sitter.

Geoff Barker, Curatorial, September 2009


Object No.


Object Statement

Photographic positive, ambrotype, hand-tinted, studio portrait of a seated woman, collodion / paint / glass / wood / paper / metal / velvet, photographer unknown, place of production unknown, 1854-1865

Physical Description

Photographic positive, studio portrait, hand-tinted ambrotype of a seated woman, collodion / paint / glass / wood / paper / metal / velvet, photographer unknown, 1854-1865

An ambrotype showing a woman photographed seated in a studio setting. The woman wears a dark coloured dress with a white lace collar and a bow in the middle of the collar. She sits in a straight backed chair and rests her right elbow on the table beside her. A book can be seen on sitting on the table. There is a backdrop behind the woman that features a painted landscape scene. The ambrotype has been tinted with the woman's cheeks pink and the bow on her dress blue and pink.The ambrotype is enclosed in a hinged case made from wood that has been covered in leather. The case opens to reveal the ambrotype on the right hand side. The ambrotype is framed in an arch shaped brass mat. A glass panel sits over the top of the brass mat and a rectangular brass frame surrounds the glass. The opposite side of the case is lined with green velvet and features a embossed design of a vase surrounded by flowers. Two metal hooks on the side of the case allow it to be closed securely.



195 mm


10 mm



  • 1850-60


In 1851 Frederick Scott Archer announced the discovery of a new photographic process that could adhere to glass. This was a major breakthrough in the story of photography for the process made clear highly detailed negatives form which multiple copies could be made.

The general public had become used to their photographic portraits being taken using a daguerreotype process which were displayed in a small glass fronted case. To compete with this trade a special kind of collodion process, known as the ambrotype was introduced. This was essentially the same as other collodion negatives except that once the exposure had been taken the emulsion on the glass was bleached to whiten it. When this bleached negative was placed in a case against a black background it formed a positive image which bore a remarkable resemblance to the daguerreotype except it had the added advantage of not being highly reflective.

Australia followed rather than set photographic trends but in the 1850s, the massive boom caused by the discovery of gold ensured it was very quick to take up new processes like the ambrotype. Over the 1850s the ambrotype replaced the daguerreotype as the preferred method of taking portraits but even in the late 1850s daguerreotypes were still being made for more conservative customers.

Geoff Barker, Curatorial, September 2009

J. Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Third Edition, Institute of Australian Photography, Hong Kong, 1979
Michel Frizot, A New History of Photography, Amilcare Pizzi, Milan, 1998
Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, A Concise History of Photography, Thames and Hudson, Germany, 1965
A. Davies and P. Stanbury, 1985, The Mechanical Eye in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne


Credit Line

Purchased 1961

Acquisition Date

10 August 1961

Cite this Object


Hand-tinted ambrotype of a seated woman 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 26 September 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Hand-tinted ambrotype of a seated woman |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=26 September 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.