Painting of the Siege of Sevastopol. After invading the Crimean Peninsula in the autumn of , the Allied forces scored a victory at the Battle of the Alma and then besieged the vital Russian naval hub at Sevastopol. They believed the city would fall in a matter of weeks, but following a series of bloody Russian counterattacks at the Battles of Balaclava and Inkerman, the war settled into a stalemate. It would eventually take 11 months before a French assault forced the Russians to evacuate Sevastopol.
It was the first war to feature news correspondents and battlefield photographers. Thanks to new technologies such as the steamship and the electric telegraph, the Crimean War was the first major conflict where civilian journalists sent dispatches from the battlefield. The war was also brought to life by photographers such as Roger Fenton and James Robertson, who produced hundreds of wet-plate images of battlefields and soldiers in uniform. Along with dashing their hopes of victory in Crimea, the Siege of Sevastopol also introduced the Russians to one of their most legendary authors.
Leo Tolstoy spent several months serving in defense of the city as an artillery officer, and was one of the last people to evacuate during its fall on September 9, —which also happened to be his 27th birthday. Allied soldiers also received aid from Mary Seacole, a Jamaican-born woman who traveled to Crimea and divided her time between selling supplies, food and medicine and treating the wounded on the front lines.
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Around he began to study painting in the studio of Charles Lucy, a member of the Royal Academy in London. It is generally accepted that from to or he was in Paris and may have studied painting at the studio of Paul Delaroche. He apparently made frequent trips between London and Paris between and , during which time he married Grace Maynard Perhaps in response to the additional responsibilities of beginning a family, or possibly realizing that he lacked the necessary skills to become a successful painter, Fenton completed his studies for a career in law and began practice as a solicitor ca.
One reason frequently given for the likelihood that Fenton studied at the studio of Delaroche is that three of France's foremost early photographers may have emerged from that studio. It has been suggested that Fenton was introduced to photography either as an art form itself, or as an aid to art, by Delaroche.
Possibly as early as , though more likely around , Fenton appears to have begun experimenting with photography while continuing to paint. Between and he had three "genre" paintings accepted by the Royal Academy, without any particular distinction. This may have led him to make the final break with painting in In Fenton journeyed to Russia to take photographs for civil engineer Charles Vignoles, documenting the construction of a suspension bridge over the Dnieper River in Kiev in Ukraine.
While in Russia, Fenton photographed buildings and views in Kiev, St. Petersburg and Moscow. He used the waxed-paper negative process of Gustave Le Gray. Early in Fenton began to photograph the British Royal family, making frequent visits to various Royal residences, taking portraits as well as tableaux vivants living pictures staged by Royal family members of works of art.
Your 60-second guide to the Crimean War
Later that year he entered into an agreement with the British Museum to photograph art and artifacts from its collections. He hired an assistant, and traveled the English countryside testing the suitability of the van. In February Fenton set sail for the Crimea aboard the Hecla, traveling under royal patronage and with the assistance of the British government. While Fenton was in the Crimea he had ample opportunity to photograph the horrors of war.
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He had several friends and acquaintances, including his brother-in-law, Edmund Maynard, who were casualties of combat. But Fenton shied away from views that would have portrayed the war in a negative or realistic light for several reasons, among them, the limitations of photographic techniques available at the time Fenton was actually using state-of-the-art processes, but lengthy exposure time prohibited scenes of action ; inhospitable environmental conditions extreme heat during the spring and summer months Fenton was in the Crimea ; and political and commercial concerns he had the support of the Royal family and the British government, and the financial backing of a publisher who hoped to issue sets of photos for sale.
Whether there was an explicit directive from the British government to refrain from photographing views that could be deemed detrimental to the government's management of the war effort, perhaps in exchange for permission to travel and photograph in the war zone, or whether there was merely an implicit understanding between the government, the publisher, and the photographer is not known.
Fenton photographed the leading figures of the allied armies, documented the care and quality of camp life of the British soldiers, as well as scenes in and around Balaklava, and on the plateau before Sevastopol, but refrained from images of combat or its aftermath. This tactic may have given him access to information and views that were otherwise off-limits to artists and war correspondents, like William Howard Russell, who were critical of the British government's leadership and military officers' handling of the war.
In any case, while personally witnessing the horror of war, Fenton chose not to portray it. Fenton made plans to photograph Sevastopol following the June 18th assault on the Malakoff and the Redan, the Russian's primary defense works before the city. When the assault failed, he decided it was time to return to England. He sold the van, packed up his equipment, and by June 26th, ill with cholera, sailed out of the harbor at Balaklava. Fenton was, therefore, not present for the fall of Sevastopol Sept.
Fenton's Crimean War photographs offer a wonderful record of a moment in time. They are documentary in the sense that they constitute a reality in a way only intimated by painting or wood engraving. They might also be considered the first instance of the use of photography for the purposes of propaganda, although they do not seem to have been exploited to this end.
Clearly they were intended to present a particular view of the British government's conduct of the war. However, by the time they were exhibited Sevastopol had fallen and the tide of war had turned.
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The commercial venture that precipitated Fenton's photographic assignment did not prove as lucrative as hoped. Sets of photographs went on sale in November of , two months after the fall of Sevastopol. The vivid, though understated, reality of war presented in the photographs may have led to a negative reaction by the viewing public, which ignored the aesthetic and technical qualities inherent in the photographs.
When the Crimean War ended, so did the interest in its photographic documentation.
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The Latins had their own keys, but they were to a side door and not to the main door. There was also a row about a silver star with Latin inscriptions in the sanctuary, which had mysteriously disappeared in , as well as disputes over the Latin claim to the right to repair the principal cupola of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and over the right to officiate at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary at Gethsemane.
Feelings ran so high that Greek and Latin monks came to blows with crosses and candlesticks in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The whole situation was a red rag to Tsar Nicholas I, traditional champion of the Greek Orthodox, who insisted on Russia being confirmed by the Porte as the protector of the Holy Places and of all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. These developments were accompanied by protracted diplomacy. He hinted that Russia might have to occupy Constantinople temporarily if matters were not resolved.
In January , to the fury of the Russians, they sent warships into the Black Sea. Refusal to comply or refusal to answer in six days was to be taken as a declaration of war.