Framed photograph, Opalotype, Portrait of William Johnston; Unknown photographer...


Framed photograph, Opalotype, Portrait of William Johnston

About this object

A framed opal portrait of William Johnston, of 'Springbank' at Gropers Bush. William arrived in New Zealand in 1859, landing in Dunedin and moved to Southland in 1863. He died in 1905 aged about 70. This fine portrait looks to have been made of William in his later years, aged approximately 65.

The opalotype, opal portrait, or ‘milk glass positive’, was a photographic process patented in 1857 by Glover and Bold of Liverpool. Rather than paper, an opalotype is printed on translucent white glass. The original process involved coating the glass with emulsion and printing directly onto it. A second process introduced by Englishman Joseph Swan in 1864, involved creating a carbon print of the photograph, which could then be transferred onto the glass. The large size of the opalotypes in Te Hikoi’s collection suggests the use of the latter process. The photos were often heavily reworked by a retouching artist, retaining their black and white appearance or with the addition of colour; the beauty of an opalotype is as much a testament to the artist as the photographer. Many opalotype portraits have incredibly life-like results to the face and hair, while the garments have been more simply painted. Some opalotypes are so heavily painted that they are not identifiable as photographs, while others retain a closer connection to the initial image. The process was never hugely popular, perhaps due to the considerable cost; preparing the carbon transfer was time consuming and used expensive materials, followed by the artist’s work, making opalotypes a luxury item. This coupled with the delicate nature of the glass makes these works rare.

Place Made



Unknown photographer

Maker Role




Maker Role


Date Made


Inscription and Marks

On a printed label glued to the front: 'WILLIAM JOHNSTON GROPERS BUSH'
Handwritten on the reverse: "WILLIAM JOHNSTON "SPRINGBANK" GROPERS BUSH ARRIVED DUNEDIN 1859 " [arrived] SOUTHLAND 1863 DIED 1905 - AGED 70 YEARS'
Handwritten on reverse near bottom in pencil: 'MR WM. JOHNSTON GROPERS'
Handwritten on reverse: '96/95/215'Handwritten on reverse on a yellow sticker: '05/04'


h 730 mm x w 600 mm x d 30 mm

Object Type


Subject and Association Keywords

People and Families (including births, weddings, deaths)

Medium and Materials

organic, processed material, paper
organic, processed material, glass
organic, vegetal, wood

Object number



Attribution - Non-commercial (cc) Attribution - Non-commercial (cc)

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