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Australian art


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Thomas Skelton Glaister

England, Australia

1825 - 1904


Thomas Glaister was a professional photographer renowned for expensive, high quality ambrotypes and paper photographs. Born in the USA, Glaister worked for the Meade Brother’s photographic studio in New York from about 1850 to 1854, when he arrived in Australia. After spending a year in Melbourne he moved to Sydney, establishing his own studio, the American Australian Portrait Gallery, in April 1855, and a second branch in Brisbane, which was managed by John Watson. Glaister advertised his firm as an expensive, quality outfit that produced images resistant to fading (a considerable problem in the 1850s and 60s). His studio was admired for the cosmopolitan images of Paris and Rome hung on its walls, and he made sure that patrons were prepared for their visit by dressing appropriately for the camera. Glaister kept abreast of international developments in the medium and his photographs were celebrated for their technical sophistication and style. He was the undisputed master of the ambrotype process; his images exhibited a subtlety of colouring and greater informality and expressiveness, thanks in part to the shorter exposure times. In 1870 his Pitt Street studio was entirely destroyed by a fire and he presumably returned to the United States.

A carte de visite is a stiff card of about 10 x 6.4 cm, with an attached paper photograph, invented in 1854 by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disderi. They were introduced into Australia in 1859 by William Blackwood with albums arriving in 1860, aiding the collection and distribution of multiple cartes. Cartes were usually portraits and were made by the millions worldwide. Multi-lens, or ‘multiplying’ cameras were introduced in the 1860s, which were capable of producing from 2 to 32 images in quick succession, dramatically increasing the number of cartes de visite that could be made from a single photographic plate. They were easily reproduced by making paper contact prints from the glass plates, which were then cut and pasted to card.




Media category


Materials used

carte de visite


9.6 x 6.0 cm image; 10.2 x 6.2 cm mount card

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 2014


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Thomas Skelton Glaister

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Judy Annear, The photograph and Australia, Sydney, Jun 2015, 246 (colour illus.).