Robert Newell was born in 1822 in Burlington, New Jersey. He married Elizabeth Wormwood circa 1845, and their first child Henry (known as 'Harry' to family and friends) was born three years' later. Four sons and two daughters would follow. Settling in Philadelphia, Mr. Newell entered the photography profession in 1855 and quickly established himself as one of the city's preeminent portraitists. For the next decade, his studio was located at 724 Arch Street. Although he initially specialized in portraiture, his true passion became outdoor and landscape photography. Mr. Newell closed his portrait studio in 1865 and opened a larger gallery at 626 Arch Street to satisfy the increasing and more lucrative demand for landscape and commercial photography. The grounds included a lush garden where families and military personnel could be photographed in a pastoral setting. The three-story structure featured the studio and an ornate parlor on the first floor, the printing room and office on the second, and the silver processes were housed on the third floor.
Ever the innovator, Mr. Newell designed a specially equipped van that could be transported easily and efficiently. It was virtually a studio on wheels, consisting of a darkroom, water tanks, and processing chemicals. His van enjoyed immense popularity among other photographers of the era. Mr. Newell's prowess as a landscape photographer attracted the attention of Clarence Howard Clark, a Philadelphia philanthropist who was then president of E. W. Clark and Company, a prominent banking and insurance corporation. He commissioned Mr. Newell to create an expansive portfolio of his family's estate. 'Views of Chestnutworld' are now part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection, but are not presently on display. 1872 was a banner year for Robert Newell. His son Henry entered the family business, which was promptly renamed R. Newell & Son. The successful duo collaborated on photographing building construction for the upcoming Centennial Exhibition being held in Philadelphia as well as photographing the interiors of the Eastern State Penitentiary that were featured in their 1872 annual report. Father-and-son also published a photographic series entitled Old Landmarks & Relics of Philadelphia and produced several stunning stereographs of commercial Philadelphia. Robert Newell continued experimenting with new processes, and developed an acid resistant composition that was used in wooden photographic coating baths, pans, and trays.
Henry Newell, who had established himself as a gifted photographer in his own right, married Clara McCormick on December 30, 1875. They had one son, Henry K. Newell, who died in infancy. The senior Newell died on February 2, 1897 at his Philadelphia home following a brief illness. Sadly, his son died less than a year later, on December 28, 1897. It is believed the firm of R. Newell & Son ceased operations shortly thereafter.
2014 Free Library of Philadelphia (URL: http://libwww.freelibrary.org/hip/photo.cfm).
1873 The Photographer's Friend, Vol. III (Baltimore: R. Walzl), p. 281.
2014 Smithsonian American Art Museum (URL: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=34330).
1895 Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXII (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 105, 115-117.
1897 Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXIV (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 126-127.
1898 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXV (New York: Edward L. Wilson), p. 89.
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