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The Exbury Collection: the Rothschild Autochromes

The autochrome, the first widely available colour photographic process, was launched in Britain in September 1907. The invention of the French Lumière brothers, the process had first been demonstrated publicly in Paris.

Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942) had a passion for photography, and loved to experiment; it was inevitable that he would try his hand with the autochrome, and so he did, and with considerable success. The 733 glass plates in his collection in The Rothschild Archive represent the largest single collection of autochrome plates by an individual British photographer to have survived.

Lionel’s earliest experiments appear to date from 1908 and by 1909 he was bringing back from his tour of Spain colour plates of Granada and other points en route. At home he began to take pictures in the gardens of Ascott in Buckinghamshire, the family home designed for Lionel’s father in the 1880s. In all he made some 250 colour plates of English houses and gardens, by far the largest group of them at Ascott. Other images were taken at Gunnersbury Park in west London, and the French estate of his cousin Edmond at Boulogne-sur-Seine, outside Paris.

Some of the most arresting images among Lionel’s work, almost a hundred in number, are portraits of family and friends, again mostly taken in the setting of family gardens. It is here, perhaps, as we stare back into the eyes of Edwardian high society, that we most clearly experience the shock and surprise of seeing in colour a world before the First World War which we have grown used to thinking of in monochrome.

Further information

For further information, see:

View a Gallery of selected Autochromes here »

The Exbury Collection: the Rothschild Autochromes, c.1908-c.1912

000/876, 733 glass plates

The Rothschild Autochromes: a collection of 733 glass photographic autochrome plates belonging to Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942) featuring images of English gardens, including Gunnersbury and Ascott, Egypt, Mediterranean views, and people.

All the autochromes have been digitised in high resolution. A catalogue of all the autochomes is available in the Reading Room upon request. 

Please note that these items are extremely fragile and will not generally be produced for researchers.

The Exbury Collection: photographic equipment of Lionel de Rothschild, c.1905-c.1914

000/876; 000/1024 and 000/1933, 16 boxes

A quantity of Edwardian photographic equipment and materials, the property of Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942). Many items were manufactured by Newman & Guardia, who were a British camera and fine instruments company founded in 1893, and a prolific producer of cameras aimed at a knowledgeable and demanding clientele. Although most were hand-held plate cameras, the company also produced some field, roll-film and specialist cameras.


  • a large leather case embossed ‘L de R’ containing half-plate field camera by Ross, London;
  • a camera in a leather case;
  • a collection of nine empty wooden storage boxes made to hold photographic glass plates/autochrome plates;
  • a collection of 57 empty adjustable wooden frames made to hold individual photographic glass plates/autochrome plates.


  • a large wooden camera with brass fittings, in leather case, 'L de R' on camera casing;
  • single lens black camera made by Newman & Guardia;
  • dual lens black stereoscopic camera 'Sibyl' made by Newman & Guardia;
  • empty leather case;
  • leather case holding wooden slides;
  • leather case holding eight black slides (box labelled Newman & Guardia); 
  • leather case holding twelve black slides (box labelled Newman & Guardia);
  • two small leather boxes, 'L.R', '32 Parkside, London W.' containing slide plates by the London Stereoscopic Photographic Co, Regent St, London; 
  • leather box 'L de R' containing a Zeiss camera lens;
  • booklet on How to Achieve Success in Photography, plus assorted loose lenses and other items.


  • Autochrome viewer in polished mahogany with red leather (damaged);
  • the base and parts of a second smaller viewer (remainder missing);
  • two undeveloped Ilford Panchromatic plates, 20 inches x 24 inches;
  • a leather carrying case for a camera or slides, containing one slide.

Please note that these items are extremely fragile and will not generally be produced for researchers.