B&W Victorian Era Portraits Are Brought Back to Life with Vibrant Colors…

By Emma Taggart on My Modern Met site:

Graphic artist and history buff Frédéric Duriez digitally colorizes vintage black and white photographs, breathing new life into their subjects. Duriez started colorizing war images three years ago, and today his work ranges from old mug-shots to actors and actresses, and most recently, ghost-like portraits from the Victorian era.

The incredible images depict glum-looking children, extravagantly dressed; a sullen young couple, adorned in frilly clothing; a pair of young women, their hair perfectly pinned back; and earnest men, posing proudly. Duriez explains he chose the images because he “was attracted by the beauty of the clothes and especially the dresses of this period.” He adds, “I was fascinated by these portraits without expression because all the looks are frozen in time.”

From monochrome hues, Duriez uses the open-source software GIMP to transform the portraits, presenting brightly colored clothing, blushed cheeks, and in some, beautiful red hair. However, the artist explains that the process was challenging, as the images he works with “are without relief and contrast.”

During the early days of photography, the daguerreotype method required exposures lasting at least fifteen minutes. This could possibly explain why the subjects in Victorian portraits are rarely seen smiling and why images of the era were more focused on capturing a person’s essence, rather than a brief moment in time.

You might be thinking that a fifteen-minute exposure time is a long wait. However, this was actually a huge improvement from the first ever photograph taken by Joseph Niepce in 1826, which took an astounding eight hours to produce.

See more examples at:

Victorian portraits in colour

17 thoughts on “B&W Victorian Era Portraits Are Brought Back to Life with Vibrant Colors…

  1. Wow, these people look so much more real and immediate! And while it takes fewer muscles to smile than frown, holding those smile muscles still for several minutes is really hard! With a frown you can let gravity take over!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very cool, and a lot of work in GIMP which I’ve always found to have a UI about as user-friendly as an alligator. It always intrigues me how we envision the period of ‘black and white’ photos as being somehow severe and black-and-white, but once they’d developed aniline dyes the clothing became extraordinarily colourful. Didn’t help the severe expressions, but I guess that was a function of the exposure times.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. No wonder the subjects look sullen. Can you imagine trying to keep a small child still for 15 minutes? Maybe that’s why there aren’t many Victorian era photos of small children. It must have taken great patience and skill to make them come out right, too. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person


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