Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe: A pioneer of photography

by Northern Life

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

Frank (Francis) Meadow Sutcliffe

You’ve possibly never heard of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe before. He was a pioneer in the art of photography and one of his photos was bought by Edward VII.

And he was a Northerner!

Born in Leeds in 1853 just after the birth of photography, Frank was the son of the artist, Thomas Sutcliffe. In 1870 the family moved to Whitby. After the death of his father, Frank became the head of the household. In need of an income, Frank took up photography, taking photos of the wealthy Victorian tourists. Although his studio photography paid the bills, Frank resented the fact that it stifled his creative instinct. He sought to capture the everyday working people in their stunning surroundings. The beautiful photographs that he took make up the most complete and revealing picture of a late Victorian town, and its inhabitants.

Water Rats controversy

In 1886, Frank took his most famous photograph, Water Rats. Water Rats caused a little comment at the time as it featured naked children playing in a boat. However, the image is not erotic. Sutcliffe was using the conventions of the academic nude to show how photography can approach art. He was, however, excommunicated by his local clergy for displaying it, as they thought it would ‘corrupt’ the opposite sex. Edward VII (then the Prince of Wales) later purchased a copy of the picture.

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe: an international sensation

Although the majority of Frank’s photography centred on the small fishing town of Whitby, his talents were recognised worldwide. Between 1880 and 1894 Frank’s photography was exhibited in New York, Tokyo, Berlin, Paris, Chicago and Vienna, as well as at major exhibitions in the UK. He was one of a rare breed of photographers at that time, who had managed to see his worked deemed as art. He became world famous as one of the greatest exponents of pictorial photography and was made an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Photographic Society in 1935, the highest award attainable.

I think you’ll agree that this collection gives a somewhat unique insight into life at that time. The beautiful photographs taken by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe live on at The Sutcliffe Gallery in Whitby.