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New exhibition tells big stories through pint-sized portraits

2 November 2018

Lady Barkly, 1863 by Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 by Batchelder & O'Neill

The National Portrait Gallery is bringing the Victorian era back to life in a special exhibition exploring the colour and character of post-goldrush Australia. 

Opening on Thursday 8 November, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the cute, quirky, intimate medium of the carte de visite – a diminutive style of studio photograph that took portraiture by storm in the 1860s.

Exhibition Curator Jo Gilmour says the National Portrait Gallery has never had an exhibition like this before. ‘When the Portrait Gallery first began, we had very few carte de visite photographs in the collection – but in recent years our collection of them has grown to over 100.

Each photograph is like a miniature world of its own with an incredible story embedded in it.  The poses, the props and the fashions throw an intriguing light onto the world of the nineteenth-century studio, while the stories of the photographers and their subjects combine to create a rich and vivid archive of Australian society at a precise moment in time. Rich or poor, male or female, famous or infamous, powerful or anonymous: everyone was captured in these tiny photographs.

What I love about Carte-o-mania! is its wit and its fun factor.  All of the portraits in the show will be displayed in showcases and albums, giving viewers the opportunity to get up close and immerse themselves in the photographs, which became part of a widespread collecting fad.’   

The exhibition will be on show at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November to 22 April 2019. Entry is free.