Cabinet is an award-winning magazine of art and culture that confounds expectations of what is typically meant by the words “art,” “culture,” and sometimes even “magazine.”
In their interesting 2002 article ‘Color Gardens before Color Photography‘, they discuss the diifculties faced by photographers trying to represent colour over black-&-white slides. Humorously, they tell of how these difficulties include the accidental colouring-in of people in the same green as surrounding shrubbery! This is something we had noticed ourselves on slides in the family collection – human figures filled in the same colour as the surrounding red-brick walls of the house behind them. Mistakes like these are understandable considering colouring work was all done by eye, using a magnifying glass over a 3-inch square slide – and adds to the unique character of them.
The hand-coloring in a similar view produced by Reginald Malby’s studio is a far more detailed and realistic representation than either of the Curtis images. Malby’s blue, lavender, white, and rose tints actually conform to plant lists and visitors’ descriptions.
The GCA’s efforts to overcome the mechanical difficulties of producing color images for color garden planning and documentation were, in the end, only moderately successful. Even Malby, careful as he may have been in painting his lantern slide of the Thornewood color garden, also strayed from representational accuracy. Look closely at the garden’s far wall: under the paint are four seated women, perhaps members of the Garden Club of America, rendered permanently green.
What this article also shows, is how far-reaching Malby’s reputation was; Thornewood Castle is in Lakewood, Washington, USA and the photo was from the Smithsonian Institution, USA. In our own family collection, we have a few Malby images of gardens in the New York State, some of which are black-&-white originals taken by Malby, which implies that Malby may have been commissioned to go to America, rather than simply being posted black-&-whites that somebody else had taken in order for him to colourise them.