Notman, William, 1826-1891 (photographer)
- Existence: 1826 - 1891
William Notman was born in Paisley on March 8th 1826. He studied art and initially planned to be an artist. However, he was eventually persuaded to join the family woollen cloth business instead (Turner 1996, p.257). He worked first as a travelling salesman and then became a junior partner. He married Alice Merry Woodwark in 1853 and eventually had seven children. In the mid-1850s the family business went bankrupt and Notman emigrated to Canada (Cook 1990, p.787).
In Canada, Notman started work for Ogilvy and Lewis, a wholesale dry goods firm (Cook 1990, p.787). However, in 1856 he started a photographic business, opening a studio in Bleury Street, Montreal (Turner 1996, p.257; Greenhill and Birrell 1979, p.48). Notman was a successful portrait photographer. He also took photographs of Canadian scenes and life. In 1858 he was commissioned to photograph the construction of Grand Trunk Railway's Victoria Bridge, Montreal. In 1860 he was asked by the Canadian Government to prepare a portfolio of photographs for the Prince of Wales (Cook 1990, p.787). Circa 1861 he was appointed photographer to the Queen (Greenhill and Birrell 1979, p.50).
As well as a talented photographer, Notman was a good businessman. His great variety of subject matter and his reasonable prices ensured his popularity. He also made his images available in many different formats and in many locations. By the mid-1860s Notman had 35 employees. In 1868 he opened a branch studio in Ottawa and soon after a Toronto studio. In 1876 he joined Edward Wilson in establishing the Centennial Photographic Company and obtained a monopoly on photographs taken at the Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition. By the 1880s he operated at least twenty studios in Canada and New England (Cook 1990, p.789; Grove).
Notman was also friends with Alexander Henderson. In 1860 they travelled to the Niagara Falls. They also worked together on experiments with magnesium flares and were both founding members of the Art Association of Montreal (Cook 1998, pp.477-478).
Notman died on November 25th 1891. His business was continued by his sons William McFarlane Notman and Charles F. Notman. The company was finally sold in 1935 (Turner 1996, p.257).
Sources: Cook, Ramsay ed. (1994), 'Dictionary of Canadian Biography'. Volume XIII - '1901-1910'. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Cook, Ramsay ed. (1998), 'Dictionary of Canadian Biography'. Volume XIV - '1911-1920'. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Greenhill, Ralph and Andrew Birrell (1979), 'Canadian Photography 1839-1920', Toronto: Coach House Press.
Turner, Jane ed. (1996), 'The dictionary of art'. Volume 5. New York: Grove.
Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:
Henry G. Vennor, 'Our birds of prey, or the eagles, hawks, and owls of Canada' (Dawson Bros., Montreal, 1876)
Printed volume containing as plates albumen prints. The majority of the photographs measure approximately 105 x 140 mm. and have letter-press captions beneath them. All the photographs are of stuffed specimens.
A slip-case containing prints taken in Montreal, mounted on card with brief letterpress captions. Most prints measure approximately 120 x 90 mm. These pictures, which to the modern eye have a rather comical air of strained posing, were evidently much sought after at the time as being marvellously realistic (this particular collection is one of a series).