Wilhelm von Blandowski

21.1.1822 - 18.12.1878


William Blandowski, self-portrait, 1860

Image source: National Gallery of Victoria

   Wilhelm von Blandowski came from the old, germanised, family of Bledowski (Błędowski) of the Wieniawa coat of arms. He was born in Gliwice as the youngest of the eleven children of Feliks von Blandowski – the high rank officer of the Prussian army, and his wife Leopoldyna neé Woyrsch.    
   In the years 1839-40 Wilhelm von Blandowski attended the Catholic junior secondary school in the Kozielska street in Gliwice and from 1841 to 1843 he continued his education in the Mining School in Tarnowskie Góry. Then he worked in the Königsgrube mine in Chorzów.

   He decided to leave the country probably because of the turbulent times of the 1848 revolution. In 1849 he left for Australia together with the government geologists in order to research the natural history and to work out the botanical classification, as well as the geographical study of this country. He found gold near Castlemaine, (Victoria), then invented and improved the water pump. Over the years 1854 and1857 he organised an expedition in order to study the natural history of the area where the rivers Darling and Murray merged, which resulted in gathering 17400 interesting specimens for the National Museum. He is also renown for his research on Blandowskius and Blandowskiella fish species. One could find him among the founders of the Victoria philosophic society.  

Muzeum of Victoria - Melbourne

   In 1860 Wilhelm von Blandowski came back to Gliwice. He died in the Hospital for the Neurotically Ill in Bolesławiec.   


   Below there is a summary of an article by an excellent Gliwice photographer, Mr Jerzy Lewczyński  (for full text see 10th volume of the Annal of the Gliwice Museum 1995 r.) 

„ ... It happened that in my beloved city of Gliwice I came across a wonderful character of the 19th century researcher and a photographer.

   The way of Wilhelm von Blandowski to photography is full of mystery and it would certainly remain a subject of research and investigation for a long time. To understand his effort and achievements we have to realise the condition of the then photography. The life of my hero fell in the time of the photography invention (1839). I assume that Wilhelm von Blandowski  preparing to leave for Australia in 1849 must have been aware of this invention. The spontaneous development of photography in the 19th century can be probably compared to the development of the television in the 1960s. 

William Blandowski, self-portrait, 1860

Image source: National Gallery of Victoria

   The first creation of a photography was the so-called daguerreotype. The complicated technological process resulted in receiving a silver-plated plate glistening with the image of the photographed person. The subsequent technique named talbotype after its inventor, the Englishman Fox Talbot, gave the paper negative which, converted into a positive, resulted in slightly blurred figures’  outlines – the effect caused by the paper negative structure. Directly after Talbot, in 1851 another Englishman, F.S. Archer, invented the so-called colodion method producing a glass negative. However such way was hard to realise because of the film in the camera had to be wet. The photographer had to carry with him a big, heavy laboratory enabling him to coat the glass film with the colodion emulsion in the darkness. The pictures from Australia by Blandowski are probably colodions or the other dry negative method, maybe prepared on the spot. 
   The pictures were gathered in the album titled „ Australia in 142 photographic prints” published in 1862 by the Gliwice Gustaw Neumann printing house. The album can be found now in the Staatsbibliotek in Berlin. It proves the versatility of the W. Blandowski interests. The album consists mostly of the 6,5 x 7 cm pictures, several on each page. The first one, being rather a drawing is a vignette mentioning William Blandowski with a list of object photographed by an author: geology, geography, palaeontology, Aborigines, animals and plants. 

   The subsequent photographs illustrate the views and landscapes of the areas researched, tropical forests, stones, rocks, waterfalls, trees and the seashore. In one of the pictures we can see the explorers’ camp with people and horses, the others show us the life of Aborigines. The pictures are surprisingly sharp which indicates the employment of quite sensitive emulsion. On the faces one can easily see the tattoos and other details. All charts are signed in English, as follows: „engraving from photograph” or „engraving from sketch”.

   The printing industry knows the method of covering a wooden block with the photographic emulsion in order to cut out the outline of the object, according to the picture. Maybe that was the method of the author, or maybe he was accompanied by a draughtsman. Wilhelm von Blandowski was certainly a pioneer in different disciplines and was first to employ photography for scientific purposes. He was in Australia in the period from 1849 to 1860 and came back to Gliwice with a substantial photographic experience. The rapid development of this discipline seemed to be promising prospect for earning money. It is here where my fascination in the Blandowski’s Gliwice photography begins.

   On his arrival, the photographer probably bought a house or an atelier in the Bankowa street No 7 and there he commenced his work. It is a fascinating experience to study the picture nuances of Blandowski photographs, such as the faces of people, their looks, appearances and accessories.

   Looking at his pictures one can admire the unique group of the Gliwice townspeople, workers, craftsmen, as well as the poor. There is a moving photograph of the fair with those then popular carts and wheelbarrows used to transport the goods. The boys in caps and girls in jackets and wide dresses with aprons.   


   In the photographic albums by Wilhelm Blandowski one can encounter the first advertisement pictures illustrating the Gliwice farming industry and breeding, namely the cattle from the Szałsza estate. Some pictures witness the mid 19th century industry, the Gliwice foundry, the wire factory, oil factory and other unknown object. There are also some pictures of the Christian and Jewish cemeteries. A real peculiarity is constituted by the set of pictures of the then evidently famous Konntny family. The people photographed by Blandowski include both the rich townspeople, as well as the Gliwice shoemakers, musicians, chimney sweeps, soldiers, waiters, milk distributors and beggars. There is a beautiful picture of a Silesian woman wearing a scarf on her shoulders, holding the rosary and the umbrella with the former silhouette of the All Saints Church in the background.
   Some of the pictures are signed with a name and surname of a person on the photograph, sometimes even with his place of residence. It is amazing to learn the places from where those people came to the Blandowski atelier. Odessa, Hungary, Warsaw, Katowice, Strzelce, Zabrze, Stare Tarnowice, Zawadzkie, Głogów, Ujazd, Jastrzębie, Gogolin, Chorzów and many other locations.
   The history of photography mention the names of the great 19th century portrait artists, masters such as: an Englishman David Octavius Hill, a Frenchman Hippolit Bayard, Nadar and others. Some portraits by Wilhelm Blandowski can be well compared to those now classic photographic compositions. The world of the Gliwice townspeople wasn’t maybe so extraordinary as those of Paris or London but certainly it rewarded Blandowski with great artistic satisfaction. The photography history handbooks do not mention his works.

The future should change this!



Jerzy Lewczyński "Wilhelm von Blandowski herbu Wieniawa" Zarys działalności fotograficznej - Rocznik Muzeum w Gliwicach t.X - Ludzie i dzieła - Gliwice 1995

Wilhelm Blandowski - "Australia - Terra Ccognita"

State Library of NSW -;thumbs=1

Museum Victoria -

Opracowanie: meg

Translation: Jimi i Emer

Gliwice 2005