Charles Percy Pickering (c. 1825 - 1809)

Photographer and wood-carver, born in England. He came to Sydney in 1855, where he worked as a photographer. Although advertising in October 1858 that he would ‘dispose of a Photographic Business, cheap’, two months later customers could still have their portraits (‘highly coloured and enamelled, in cases, 3s 6d’) taken at the same premises in Riley Street, opposite the pump south of South Head Road. By November 1860, however, Pickering had opened a new studio at 612 George Street South, Brickfield Hill, and was offering coloured and ‘enamelled’ cased portraits for 2s 6d. Initially called the United Volunteer Portrait Gallery, the name was soon abandoned. The studio became so well known that its sole address was ‘Pickering, Brickfield Hill’.

Pickering was ‘The Family Photographer’, and it was to his studio that Sydney’s middle classes flocked. He also provided souvenir photographs of the famous and infamous, the latter including the bushrangers Frank Gardiner with two colleagues (c. 1860, Mitchell Library) and John Gilbert. At his recently improved and extended gallery in 1862 he was producing both cartes-de-visite (‘printed off on paper in a rich brown tint’) and ambrotypes (‘coloured in a finished style … which evinces an intimate acquaintance with all the elegant mysteries of the pictorial art’). He subsequently opened a second studio at 432 George Street. Both places were offering three cartes-de-visite for 5s or eight for 10s in 1864. The George Street branch was extensively damaged by fire in December 1865 when Samuel Hebblewhite’s shop next door burnt down and, although Pickering advertised the following February that the damage had been repaired and the rooms rebuilt ‘on the most approved plan’, John Yates had taken over within a few weeks. Pickering continued at Brickfield Hill.

In June 1864 he was reported as having produced a ‘remarkably faithful and animated’ life-size self-portrait, the outline, enlarged by the solar process, being ‘afterwards filled up and completed by the pencil [paint] of the artist’. As well as such large overpainted portraits, Pickering produced untouched solar camera enlargements ‘universally pronounced to be characteristic portraits and good pictures, without being in any way touched up by the pencil’. Said to have had the appearance of ‘mezzotinto or sepia’, these could be purchased as ‘an outline and basis for portraits to be finished off in oil’ if desired, cited examples of untouched likenesses he had sold from his studio being of Mr Dalgleish, Mr Westcot, Mr Waterford and Mr Edward Reeve. Freeman’s Journal described this solar enlarging process in 1868 and pronounced the coloured examples on display at Pickering’s studio ‘equal to any oil painting’.

In 1865 Pickering’s cartes-de-visite cost 7s 6d a dozen and he was also advertising diamond cameo portraits (‘four different views of the face on one card’). He travelled around the countryside in a van, taking views and portraits ‘In order to accommodate gentlemen who wish their country residence to be photographed, or for the convenience of invalids who are unable to leave home’. In August 1870 the Illustrated Sydney News reproduced a panorama of Sydney reported to have been ‘taken expressly’ for the paper by Pickering, the original photograph being 5 feet (1.52 m) long. A month later he was appointed official photographer to the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition.

Under the direction of Colonial Architect James Barnet, Pickering was commissioned by the New South Wales government in January 1871 to prepare ‘a number of photographic views of Sydney and its suburbs’ for the forthcoming London International Exhibition. The government printer published 166 of the resulting photographs in a large folio volume, Photographs of Public and Other Buildings, &c. Taken by Authority of the Government of New South Wales, at the Request of the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sydney 1872). It was shown at the exhibition and copies were presented to distinguished visitors as proof that Sydney’s architectural splendours were no whit inferior to those increasingly filling the skyline of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’. Gratifyingly, some were reproduced in the London Graphic in 1879-80.

C.P. Pickering died in September 1908 at his residence, Berowra, in James Street, Leichhardt, survived by his wife and seven children, including his photographer son Alfred.

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