The eight images of one of the Victorian author’s child friends came from a descendant of the sitter: Alexandra ‘Xie’ Rhoda Kitchin (1864-1925).
A French dealer was the buyer of all eight photographs, bidding hammer prices of between £10,000-16,550 each.
Xie was a favourite photographic subject of Dodgson, who depicted her around 50 times, from age four until just before her 16th birthday. She was the daughter of Rev George William Kitchin (1827-1912), one of Dodgson’s colleagues at Christ Church, Oxford, who later became the Dean of Winchester and Durham. Her mother was Alice Maud Taylor, second daughter of Bridges Taylor, the British consul in Denmark.
The works, all albumen prints mostly laid down on card, are well known to collectors. They assume a tableau format, showing the sitter in different costumes: asleep on a sofa, with a bucket and spade, wearing a fur hat and cape, dressed as a queen or as ‘a Chinaman’. This image of Xie, at her youngest aged perhaps four or five, was one of the more artistic. The emulsion peeling from the edges of the glass negative was purposefully retained by Dodgson during printing to create a visual echo of the drama played out in the child’s imagination.
The prints, which were estimated at around £1000 each as part of Sworders’ Books and Maps sale from April 14-23, came for sale from the Rev Kitchin’s great grandchildren. Their late mother Elizabeth had sold around 10 similar photographs at Sotheby’s in the late 1980s but these new discoveries were, said Sworders director Luke Macdonald, “found in an envelope at the back of a safe while the family home in Essex was being cleared”.
Since the 1930s, biographers and scholars have questioned Dodgson’s intentions when taking these pictures and the relationship he had with his young subjects. Of about 3000 photographs the Alice in Wonderland author made in his life, just over half are of children.
At the time, the camera was still a relatively new technology, and Dodgson was an early and capable enthusiast. He found no shortage of friends who wanted him to make likenesses of their children. In a biography of his uncle, Dodgson’s nephew Stuart Collingwood referred to them as his ‘child friends’.
Later authors painted Dodgson, who never married, as a more sinister figure although no evidence has emerged to support it.
Alexandra Kitchin went on to marry Arthur Cardew, a civil servant and gifted amateur musician. They had six children. Unlike Alice Liddell, Isa Bowman and other Dodgson ‘child friends’, Xie never published reminiscences of him.