Annie Besant Albumen Cabinet Card


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Annie Besant Albumen Cabinet Card. 4 x 2.5 inches (10.3 x 6.4 cm). c1880. Photograph taken by Hayman Seleg Mendelssohn. Good condition, slight foxing present, sepia darkened with age. The bottom of the photograph is annotated 'Mrs Besant.' Genuinely scarce.  

'Annie Besant (October 1847 – 20 September 1933) was a British socialist, Theosophist, women's rights activist, and writer. Regarded as a champion of human freedom, she was an ardent supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule, and a prolific author with over three hundred books and pamphlets.

After spending a number of years as an activist on frontline of political movements, Besant interests turned towards spirituality. In 1899 she met the H. P. Blavatsky in Paris, after reading her book The Secret Doctrine: Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy. When Blavatsky died in 1891, Besant was left as one of the leading figures in Theosophy and in 1893 she represented it at the Chicago World Fair.

In her Autobiography, Besant follows her chapter on "Socialism" with "Through Storm to Peace"; what she saw as the peace of Theosophy. In 1888, she described herself as "marching toward the Theosophy" that would be the "glory" of her life. In 1893 she went to India for the first time, devoting much of her energy to India's freedom and progress. Besant Nagar, a neighbourhood near the Theosophical Society in Chennai, is named in her honour.

Perhaps a more understated aspect of Annie Besant’s life was the publication of Thought-Forms: A Record of Clairvoyant Investigation, which she compiled with Charles Leadbeater, the result of years investigation ‘into the subtle matters of the universe’. The book had a considerable influence on modern art.

"It suggested, to a world moving rapidly beyond the literalism of Victorian art, the expression in painting of surreal forms and forces underlying, but different from, the visible world.” (Elwood 2012).

In early January 1901, when this book was published; "Queen Victoria still ruled England. 'Modernism' as a movement or even a concept did not exist. When we consider this world of 1901, it becomes difficult not to believe that Besant, Leadbeater and their milieu deserve a more prominent place in the annals of both abstract art and the history of modernism” (Breen, 2014).

The cabinet card was a style of photograph which was widely used for photographic portraiture after 1870. It consisted of a thin photograph mounted on a card.
The albumen print, also called albumen silver print, was published in January 1847, by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, and was the first commercially exploitable method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative. It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and became the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the start of the 20th century, with a peak in the 1860-90 period.'

Ellwood R. S. (2012-03-15). "Leadbeater, Charles Webster". Theosopedia. Manila: Theosophical Publishing House.  

Breen, B. (April 2014). "Victorian Occultism and the Art of Synaesthesia". The Appendix. Austin, TX: The Appendix, LLC. 2 (2): 109–114.