Treatment of a Mold-Damaged Albumen Print

The British photographer Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1910) created the albumen print, She Never Told Her Love, in 1857. The image is an illustration of a verse from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, "She never told her love,/ But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,/ Feed on her damask cheek" (Twelfth Night II,iv,111-13). This image served as a study for the central figure in Robinson’s most famous photograph, Fading Away, a combination print created in 1858. In the April 2, 1860 issue of The British Journal of Photography, Robinson wrote the article, On Printing Photographic Pictures from Several Negatives, which explains his use of multiple negatives to create a single composite image, called a combination print.

Henry Peach Robinson British, 1830–1901

Before Treatment: Henry Peach Robinson British, 1830–1901, She Never Told Her Love, 1857 albumen print from a wet collodion negative image: 17.8 x 21.8 cm (7 x 8 9/16 in.) mount: 29 x 36.9 cm (11 7/16 x 14 1/2 in.) Paul Mellon Fund

Albumen prints were the dominant photographic process of the second half of the 19th century. An albumen print consists of a silver image residing in an albumen (egg white) layer coated onto a paper support. The National Gallery of Art’s albumen print, She Never Told Her Love, was significantly damaged by mold and blemished by soil. As a result the appearance of the image was disfigured and the albumen layer was uneven in tone and gloss. The print needed to be treated in order to stabilize its condition and improve its appearance.

Henry Peach Robinson, She Never Told Her Love, 1857

Before Treatment Detail: Henry Peach Robinson British, 1830–1901, She Never Told Her Love, 1857 albumen print from a wet collodion negative image: 17.8 x 21.8 cm (7 x 8 9/16 in.) mount: 29 x 36.9 cm (11 7/16 x 14 1/2 in.) Paul Mellon Fund

The first step in treatment is documentation. The print was thoroughly examined, a written report was created, and digital images were taken to document the print’s condition before treatment. Next, the print was tested to design a safe conservation plan. After consulting with photograph curators and scientist, a written treatment proposal was approved, and treatment was performed.

The loose mold and soil on the mount and the photograph were reduced, flaking albumen along the edges was consolidated, minute tears were mended, and the surface was reintegrated to provide a uniform surface.

She Never Told Her Love, 1857

After Treatment Detail: Henry Peach Robinson British, 1830–1901, She Never Told Her Love, 1857 albumen print from a wet collodion negative image: 17.8 x 21.8 cm (7 x 8 9/16 in.) mount: 29 x 36.9 cm (11 7/16 x 14 1/2 in.) Paul Mellon Fund

She Never Told Her Love, 1857

After Treatment: Henry Peach Robinson British, 1830–1901, She Never Told Her Love, 1857 albumen print from a wet collodion negative image: 17.8 x 21.8 cm (7 x 8 9/16 in.) mount: 29 x 36.9 cm (11 7/16 x 14 1/2 in.) Paul Mellon Fund