Born in India in 1837, David Wilkie Wynfield was the son of 47th Bengal Native Infantry Captain James Stainback Winfield and Sophia Mary Borroughes, and was the namesake of his mother's uncle and adopted father, Scottish painter Sir David Wilkie. After his father's retirement from the military, the family settled in England, where their devout son seriously considered becoming a priest. However, everything changed when he studied art under the mentorship of artist James Mathews Leigh at his acclaimed "Academy." While there, the young man became a member of a group of select artists known as St. John's Wood Clique, which included, among others, Philip Hermogenes Calderon, George A. Storey, and William Frederick Yeames. The artists would hold weekly meetings to critique each other's sketches, and by the mid-nineteenth century, relocated to London where they founded a "British School" of art that was extended to include writers who shared their avant-garde vision. They also joined fellow student Edward Sterling's 38th Middlesex Corps of the Artists' Rifle Volunteers, which was organized as a British response to Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini's attempted assassination of Napoleon III of France.
Captain Winfield left the Corps and returned to practicing his art, wholeheartedly embracing the historical subject paintings of his former instructor, James Mathews Leigh. His works were first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859. It is believed he changed his surname spelling to "Wynfield" at this time to avoid being confused with a popular historical painter of the period, Jason Digman Wingfield. At around 1860, Mr. Wynfield became acquainted with painter and fledgling photographer Frederick Richard Pickersgill, who was the son-in-law of photographic innovator Roger Fenton. The following year, he began his portrait series of artists adorned in Tudor and Renaissance attire. He copyrighted ten of these portraits and exhibited several of them in early 1864. Mr. Wynfield's photographic style never varied in that his portraiture consisted of albumen prints produced from wet-collodion negatives on plates that measured 8 x 6". The subjects - mostly men - were featured in confined spaces with backgrounds that were comprised of darkness and light to emphasize both the faces and their historical costumes. Shakespearean subject painter Henry Stacy Marks was appropriately photographed in Elizabethan garb, and Mr. Wynfield's painter friends were dressed in styles reminiscent of the Old Masters they emulated. Several of his soft-focus portraits were published collectively entitled The Studio. Pioneering female photographer Julia Margaret Cameron was profoundly influenced by Mr. Wynfield's portraits, and later declared,"To his beautiful photography I owe all my attempts and indeed consequently all of my successes."
Despite such high praise, Mr. Wynfield never achieved the recognition of some of his contemporaries, and his efforts were virtually snubbed by the Photographic Society of London. Perhaps for this reason, his output began dwindling in the early 1880s. Sadly, David Wilkie Wynfield died in relative obscurity of tuberculosis on May 26, 1887.
1893 A Catalogue of the National Gallery of British Art at South Kensington (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode), p. 154.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1514-1516.
1998 Julia Margaret Cameron's Women by Sylvia Wolf (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago), pp. 36-37.
2015 National Portrait Gallery: David Wilkie Wynfield (URL: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw06969/David-Wilkie-Wynfield?LinkID=mp04958&role=art&rNo=9).
2015 National Portrait Gallery: Henry Stacy Marks (URL: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw04210/Henry-Stacy-Marks?LinkID=mp02958&role=sit&rNo=0).
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