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William Notman Life & Work by Sarah Parsons

As with most Victorian artists, Notman’s great fame faded in the first half of the twentieth century. However, through the 1950s and beyond he was reclaimed in the name of Canadian nationalism and then art. 


The McCord and Other Archives

McCord Museum, interior

The McCord Museum in Montreal is the main resource for all things Notman. The Notman Photographic Archives are located at the McCord and hold over 600,000 photographs, including 200,000 glass negatives. Most of these images have been scanned and can be searched and viewed on the McCord website. The website also features interviews with archivists and historians, video introductions to Notman’s subjects, and information about his techniques and technologies, as well as many of the essays written by former curator Stanley Triggs
          Notman’s photographs and those created under the banner of his studio can also be found in the collections of most major Canadian museums and farther afield in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. However, because works on paper and especially historical photographs are subject to light damage, museums often restrict the number of prints on display at one time. The McCord Museum is the best place to view Notman photographs in person. 



Writings by William Notman 

Notman wrote on photography frequently, but he limited himself mostly to short articles in the Philadelphia Photographer, edited by his friend Edward Wilson. Issues of the journal have been scanned and made available through the Boston Public Library. Notman’s articles are also quoted extensively in texts by Stanley Triggs.

Pages 10 and 11 from the pamphlet Photography: Things You Ought to Know by William Notman, after 1867, ink and letterpress, 9.3 x 6.4 cm, McCord Museum 


Photography: Things You Ought to Know. Montreal: Louis Perrault, n.d., after 1867.
This short text was designed to help prepare customers for the experience of sitting for a portrait. It advised on what clothes and accessories to wear to ensure the best results and outlined the process of the studio. Interesting and rather ingenious. 

In the 1860s Notman published a few books, some of which featured painting and photography:

Victoria Bridge, Niagara Falls, Principal Cities and Places of Interest throughout Canada. Montreal: Wm. Notman, n.d., c. 1861.

Notman, William, and Fennings Taylor. Portraits of British Americans. Montreal: Wm. Notman, 1863–68.



Books and Catalogues on Notman

Hall, Roger, Gordon Dodds, and Stanley Triggs. The World of William Notman: The Nineteenth Century through a Master Lens. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993.

Harper, J. Russell, and Stanley Triggs. Portrait of a Period: A Collection of Notman Photographs, 1856–1915. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1967.

Maciejewski, Andrzej. After Notman: Montreal Views—A Century Apart. Toronto: Firefly Books; Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 2003.

Triggs, Stanley. William Notman: The Stamp of a Studio. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario / Coach House Press, 1985.
The Stamp of a Studio is still the best resource for comprehensive information about Notman and his studio business. It is out of print but available in libraries.

.. William Notman’s Studio: The Canadian Picture / Le studio de William Notman: Objectif Canada. Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1992.

The Composite Photographs of William Notman / Les photographies composites de William Notman. Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1994.

Triggs, Stanley, Conrad Graham, Brian Young, and Gilles Lauzon. Victoria Bridge: The Vital Link / Pont Victoria: Un lien vital. Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History / McGill University Press, 1992. Exhibition catalogue.


Spread from the November 24, 1956, Maclean’s cover story on William Notman

Articles on Notman

Notman’s resurgence in the 1950s was bolstered by the writings of a cross-section of luminaries:

Berton, Pierre. “A Priceless Photo Collection Finds a Home.” Maclean’s 69, no. 24 (1956): 16–27.

Cloutier, Nicole. “Les disciples de Daguerre à Québec, 1839–1855.” Journal of Canadian Art History 5, no. 1 (1980): 33–38.

Karsh, Yousuf. “Have Women Forgotten How to Be Beautiful? A Maclean’s Album by William Notman and Yousuf Karsh.” Maclean’s 71 (August 2, 1958): 15–21.

Morisset, Gérard. “Les pionniers de la photographie canadienne.” Revue populaire (Montreal) 44, no. 9 (September 1951): 14–15, 58, 60–63. 

Newhall, Beaumont. “William Notman, 1826–1891.” Image: Journal of Photography of the George Eastman House 4, no. 8 (November 1955): 58–59. http://image.eastmanhouse.org/files/GEH_1955_04_08.pdf.

The following are two good examples of how Notman’s photographs have been used to tell stories about Victorian Canadian fashion:

Morgan, Norma. “Fashion-Plates: Sources for Canadian Fashion.” Journal of Canadian Art History 5, no. 2 (1981): 106–10.

Nadeau-Saumier, Monique. “Late Victorian and Edwardian Jewellery in Montreal.” Journal of Canadian Art History 9, no. 1 (1986): 68–80.

In 1996 leading scholars of Canadian photography co-edited a special issue on the subject for the British journal History of Photography. The journal is available at university libraries. Essays on Notman in this issue include the following:

Bara, Jana L. “Cody’s Wild West Show in Canada.” History of Photography 20, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 153–56.

Schwartz, Joan M., Ann W. Thomas, Martha Langford, and Stanley Triggs. “Some Major Canadian Collections.” History of Photography 20, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 166–85.

Skidmore, Colleen. “Women Workers in Notman’s Studio: Young Ladies of the Printing Room.” History of Photography 20, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 122–28.

Triggs, Stanley. “The Notman Photographic Archives: McCord Museum of Canadian History, Montreal.” History of Photography 20, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 180–85.

Wilson, Robert G. “William Notman’s Stereo Perspective: The Victoria Bridge, Montreal.” History of Photography 20, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 108–12.



Reference Books on Period Photography 

Greenhill, Ralph. Early Photography in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Greenhill, Ralph, and Andrew Birrell. Canadian Photography: 1839–1920. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1979.

Koltun, Lilly, ed. Private Realms of Light: Amateur Photography in Canada, 1839–1940. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1984.

Langford, Martha. Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory in Photographic Albums. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001.

Thomas, Ann. Fact and Fiction: Canadian Painting and Photography, 1860–1900. Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1979. Exhibition catalogue.



Film and Radio

Kalman Naves, Elaine. “William Notman of Montreal.” Ideas, CBC Radio, May 24, 2012.
Parts 1 and 2 available for download on iTunes and streaming online at http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2012/05/24/william-notman-of-montreal-part-1-2-1/.

Sears, Barbara. Notman’s Canada: Photographer to the Queen. Produced by Andrea Nemtin and Murray Battle. Toronto: PTV Productions Inc., in conjunction with the McCord Museum, 2004. Film, 60 min.
Eighteen clips available through the McCord Museum website:
http://www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en/keys/virtualexhibits/notmanstudio/exploration/video/