Early Colour Images of the English Garden

Autochrome Lumière was the first commercially successful colour photographic process.

It was patented by Auguste and Louis Lumière in 1903 and made available to the public in 1907. Around 200 images derived by the Autochrome Lumière process are held by the Historic England Archive.

Here we look at some amazing English homes and gardens that represent or have witnessed some of the most important historic events.

A view looking across the East Parterre towards the east elevation of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire. Historic England Archive CC82/00169

The Lumières are more well-known for their pioneering cinematic filmmaking. However, they regarded this as a novelty and were more concerned with the family photographic plate business.

A view looking over the pond in the formal gardens towards the south elevation of Compton Wynyates, Warwickshire. Historic England Archive CC82/00163

From the 1890s the brothers experimented with colour photography, but it wasn’t until they developed the Autochrome process that colour photography eventually took off. Although it was relatively expensive, Autochrome Lumière plates were easy to use and remained the principal colour photography process until the 1930s.

A view showing the Dutch Garden and sundial in front of the south and west elevations of Tylney Hall, Hampshire. Historic England Archive CC82/00168
The pond in the gardens of Wetonbirt House, Gloucestershire. Historic England Archive CC82/00179

The Lumière’s amazing invention used a screen of minute grains of potato starch dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet layered over a sensitised glass plate. When exposed, only red, green and blue light reached the plate. When it was developed a black-and-white negative was produced. When developed again, a black-and-white positive image was fixed behind the colour screen. When the plate was viewed held up to light, or with light projected through it, the combination of the positive black-and-white image and the colour screen resulted in a full colour image.

A pergola covered with climbing vegetable plants in the grounds of Westonbirt House, Gloucestershire. Historic England Archive CC82/00180

Around 200 images derived by the Autochrome Lumière process are held by the Historic England Archive. The images reproduced here are from a collection of Autochromes of English gardens that were probably taken between 1910 and 1930 by an unknown photographer/s. Blooming flowers with their vibrant colours offered perfect subjects for this pioneering process.

A view looking across a formal garden towards St Peter’s Church, Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire. Historic England Archive CC82/00160
A view from beneath the pergola towards the formal pond and fountain at Hill Garden, Camden, Greater London. Historic England Archive CC82/00164

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