N-0000.116.21.1 | Skating Carnival, Victoria Rink, Montreal, QC, painted composite, 1870

Skating Carnival, Victoria Rink, Montreal, QC, painted composite, 1870
William Notman (1826-1891)
1870, 19th century
Silver salts, oil on canvas - Albumen process
137 x 176 cm
Gift of Charles Frederick Notman
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Art (2774) , composite (312) , Photograph (77678)
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The occasion of a fancy dress skating carnival in the Victoria Rink inspired Notman's first large composite in 1870. This event was staged in honour of Prince Arthur, who, as an officer in training with the Rifle Brigade, was stationed in Montreal. Notman declared his intention of making a record of the event, and invited those who planned to participate in the skating carnival to bring their costumes and skates to the studio and have their portraits taken for a composite photograph. One hundred and fifty people came in answer to the advertisement to don their brightly coloured costumes representing various themes and epochs.

On completion of this composite photograph, measuring 20 x 27 1/2 inches, Notman had his staff produce a much larger coloured version as well, measuring 37 1/2 x 53 1/2 inches. By use of a solar enlarger (an apparatus using sunlight as a light source), the image was projected on to a large canvas that had previously been coated with light-sensitive photographic emulsion. During the necessary very long exposure the image gradually appeared on the emulsified canvas. After fixing, washing, and drying, the canvas was attached to a wooden stretcher, of the type used for oil paintings. The image was then coloured in oil by Notman's two most talented artists of that period, Henry Sandham and Edward Sharpe.

Keys to History

This composite photograph illustrates the skating carnival held at the Victoria Rink in Montreal, March 1, 1870, in honour of Prince Arthur. This version of the composite was actually painted in colour, which helps to convey some of the kaleidoscopic effect of such gatherings.

For reasons lost to history, Miss Prior as "Girl of the Period" does not appear in the composite. A Miss Bethune as the same character does, however, in the very bottom right-hand corner, lighted cigarette in hand. The artist, photographer William Notman, has found his way of expressing disapproval at the antics of the "Girl of the Period." A man dressed in Aboriginal costume appears to be aiming his arrow directly at her.

Notman was evidently well aware of boundaries that should not be transgressed in fancy dress. A newspaper report congratulated him for omitting from the composite "the monstrosities and idiocies of bad taste, which never should have disfigured the Fancy Dress Assembly."

Montreal Gazette, 26 April 1876.

  • What

    This coloured composite photograph was produced by William Notman, who transferred the image to a canvas. It was then painted with oils by Henry Sandham and Edward Sharpe.

  • Where

    This framed picture was on display in the Notman studio for 65 years. In 1955 it was given to McGill University.

  • When

    Work on the composite began immediately after the event, and the coloured image was ready by April 25, 1870, a scant two months later.

  • Who

    Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, in the lower left corner, was Queen Victoria's youngest son. He was 20 years of age at the time.