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Photograph - Writers' Buildings, Calcutta

Writers' Buildings, Calcutta

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Calcutta (photographed)

  • Date:


  • Artist/Maker:

    Francis Frith & Co.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 48, box D

Francis Frith was one of the most successful commercial photographers from the 1850s and 1860s. He also established what was to become the largest photographic printing business in England. This image is part of the V&A's Francis Frith 'Universal Series' archive which consists of over 4000 whole-plate albumen prints predominantly of historical and topographical sites. Images such as these were highly desirable throughout the 1850s and 1860s.

It is now known that nearly all of the works bearing the F. Frith and Co. stamp were not taken by Frith himself, but by one of his travelling employees. Photographers associated with Frith's 'Universal Series' include Robert Napper (Andalusia), Frank Mason Good (Egypt) and Frederick William Sutton and Hugo Lewis Pearson (Japan). In addition to hiring his own photographers, Frith also bought the negative stocks of established photographers such as Roger Fenton and Francis Bedford.

Frith's growing business coincided with many technological developments taking place within the field of photography. These developments changed and expanded the audience for photography and Frith's operation was well-prepared to provide for it and, it can be argued, worked to develop it employing a diverse range of publishing channels. Targeted towards a market that would later adopt the postcard as the ideal format for its needs, the 'Universal Series' forms a bridge between the initial low volume craft/art production associated with photography of the 1850s and the more commercial mass production work of the latter half of the century.

The Writers' Buildings were designed by Thomas Lyon (fl.1763-about 1810). Lyon was one of three English carpenters hired by the East India Company in 1763 to supervise the native workforce engaged in building Fort William, Calcutta. He was still active in Bengal in 1810, having made a career as a designer of Palladian houses. Writers’ Buildings was begun in 1777. It contained 57 small apartments or flats for the clerks (or writers) of the East India Company and resembled a civil barracks. The end pediments and verandahs were added in the early 19th century in an attempt to give it greater consequence. It was substantially rebuilt in an ornate Italianate style in 1880 to house the Bengal Secretariat.

Physical description

An albumen print mounted on green card of the Writers Building in Calcutta. The building is surround by large grounds

Place of Origin

Calcutta (photographed)




Francis Frith & Co.

Marks and inscriptions

4196 Writer's Buildings: Calcutta


Width: 20.6 cm image, Length: 16 cm image

Descriptive line

19thC; Francis Frith & Co. Calcutta, Writers' Buildings 4196


Photographic paper


Albumen process; Photography


Photographs; Architecture


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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