Issue #258  5/5/2023
Photos by Lewis Carroll Sell at UK Auction for £121,400 Total

By Alex Novak

A photograph of Alexandra 'Xie' Kitchin asleep on a sofa by Lewis Carroll was the first lot in the sale.
A photograph of Alexandra 'Xie' Kitchin asleep on a sofa by Lewis Carroll was the first lot in the sale.

A series of photographs taken by Victorian author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98) – aka Lewis Carroll – sold at Sworders for £121,400 (including buyer’s premium) in Essex over the weekend. The 8 images came from a descendent of the sitter, Alexandra 'Xie' Rhoda Kitchen (1864-1925). The auction house reported that it was French dealer, who was the buyer of all eight photographs. NY dealer Hans Kraus, Jr. reported that he had also bid in the sale.

Xie was a favourite photographic subject of Dodgson’s, who photographed her around 50 times, from age four until just before her 16th birthday. She was the daughter of Rev. George William Kitchen (1827-1912), one of Dodgson's colleagues at Christ Church College, Oxford who later became the Dean of Winchester and Durham. Her mother was Alice Maud Taylor, second daughter of Bridges Taylor, the British consul in Denmark at the time.

The works, all albumen prints mostly laid down on card, are well known to collectors. They assume a tableau format, showing the sitter in different costumes – asleep on a sofa, with a bucket and spade, wearing a fur hat and cape, dressed as a queen or as 'a Chinaman'. The image of Xie at her youngest aged perhaps four or five was one of the more artistic. The emulsion peeling from the edges of the glass negative was purposefully retained by Dodgson during printing to create a visual echo of the drama played out in the child's imagination.

The prints, that were estimated to sell for around £1000 each as part of Sworders' Books and Maps sale that ran as a timed online auction from April 14-23, came for sale from the Rev. George Kitchen’s great grandchildren. Their late mother Elizabeth Kitchen had sold around 10 similar photographs at Sotheby’s in the late 1980s but these new discoveries were found in a brown envelope at the back of a safe while the family home in Essex was being cleared.

"It is remarkable that this wonderful collection of original albumen prints of Xie Kitchin, taken by Charles Dodgson, had remained with the Kitchin family since the 1870's, a truly wonderful find in a brown envelope at the back of a safe in a local farmhouse," said Luke Macdonald, director at Sworders.

Operating since 1782, Sworders is one of the longest established fine art auction houses in the UK, now conducting over 45 auctions each year. Specialist categories include British and European Paintings, Asian Art, Jewelry, Watches, Furniture, Silver, 20th Century Design, and Modern and Contemporary Art.

Novak has over 48 years experience in the photography-collecting arena. He is a long-time member and formerly board member of the Daguerreian Society, and, when it was still functioning, he was a member of the American Photographic Historical Society (APHS). He organized the 2016 19th-century Photography Show and Conference for the Daguerreian Society. He is also a long-time member of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, or AIPAD. Novak has been a member of the board of the nonprofit Photo Review, which publishes both the Photo Review and the Photograph Collector, and is currently on the Photo Review's advisory board. He was a founding member of the Getty Museum Photography Council. He is author of French 19th-Century Master Photographers: Life into Art.

Novak has had photography articles and columns published in several newspapers, the American Photographic Historical Society newsletter, the Photograph Collector and the Daguerreian Society newsletter. He writes and publishes the E-Photo Newsletter, the largest circulation newsletter in the field. Novak is also president and owner of Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, a private photography dealer, which sells by appointment and has sold at exhibit shows, such as AIPAD New York and Miami, Art Chicago, Classic Photography LA, Photo LA, Paris Photo, The 19th-century Photography Show, Art Miami, etc.