Sources of Portrait Information

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Sources of Portrait Information


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  • NASA Multimedia Gallery. Portal for NASA's photo, video, audio and arts galleries of NASA audio-visual products, including the NASA Image eXchange. It is not a unified searchable data base.
  • NASA Image eXchange (NIX), is the first step towards a comprehensive online collection of NASA images, and comprises a web-based search engine for simultaneously searching one or more of NASA's online image and photo collections; additional collections are gradually being added to the scheme.

    Though many portraits have been published, many more remain unreproduced, and some searches may need recourse to original material. Some sources listed under 'Biographical material' will also include portraits. For historical figures, the nature of material available will depend on when the subject lived.

    Where portraits are required for reproduction the need to obtain permission to reproduce copyright images should be borne in mind.

    It should also be borne in mind that there are some quite notable astronomical figures for whom no portrait has been traced, and it is quite likely that none ever will be. Examples include the notable solar astronomer, R.C.Carrington, J. Birmingham, and Robert Hooke. It is rarely possible to identify the subjects of portraits with few or no clues to help.

    The obvious source for portraits of living or recently-deceased astronomers is the department or other institution to which they are, or were, affiliated.


    1. Published Sources

    There are many books and journal articles illustrated by portraits, and suitable biographical sources listed above should be consulted, particularly Sky and Telescope. Some books including numerous portrait illustrations are those by Berendzen, Hart and Seeley (which includes many modern astrophysicists); Learner; and the Astronomischen Gesellschaft (1904, 1931) (many small medallion portraits of then active astrophysicists; worldwide but inevitably strong on European figures).

    Patrick Moore's The Astronomy Encyclopaedia includes a number of portraits. Portrait photographs of BAA Presidents are often published in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association about the time of their presidency, as well as some other notable figures. In the case of astronomers noted for work in specific fields it is well worth looking in books on that field, other than overtly historical ones, as they will often include an historical summary (for example, Cunningham's book on Asteroids). Quite a few International Astronomical Union Symposia include such summaries.

    For British sitters there is a 4-volume reference work, Ormond and Rogers' Dictionary of British Portraiture, giving locations of many images. To this may be added Yung's catalogue of National Portrait Gallery holdings (1981), Franklin's 1995 supplement to this, and the older work by O'Donoghue on the British Museum's holdings of portrait engravings.

    The Society has a collection of portraits, predominantly photographs but including some engravings and paintings; most date from between 1850 and 1940, but there is some older and newer material. A portrait is held of every President the Society has had. A card index exists of most of the collection, which is being progressively included in the supplement to the Archives catalogue. A Microsoft Word version of Bennett's catalogue of the RAS archives is available in the Library, together with a large draft addendum in which archives or portraits of individuals may be sought. Original photographic portraits in the hands of the British Astronomical Association are included in the RAS card index, and may be viewed by permission of the Officers of the Association.

    For scientists of sufficient eminence to be commemorated in Westminster Abbey, Hall's The Abbey Scientists will indicate memorials, busts etc. Some published lists will be a guide to sitters distinguished by nationality or Society; for Fellows of the Royal Society there are Robinson's 1980 catalogue, Hammill's 1976 catalogue, and the older Royal Society catalogue of portraits of 1912. Scots may well feature in Guthrie's List of Portraits in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, while for Oxford figures there is Lane Poole's Catalogue of Portraits. For Canadian figures there seems to be no systematic published list, but it may be worth writing to the Librarian of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 136 Dupont Street, Toronto, Ontario M5R 1V2, Canada, or to the National Library in Ottawa.


    2. Private sources

    There are various sources of portrait material which for one reason or another are not freely available to the public. Portraits of historical figures may be found in the Mary Evans Picture Library, a commercial picture agency which charges for access and for supply of material. Similar sources potentially useful for more recent astronomers, astronauts, and cosmonauts include the Science Photo Library and the Hulton|Archive, commercial picture libraries whose stock includes NASA pictures. Cosmonauts here are from the period of collaboration between Russia and the USA. Pictures of cosmonauts from the USSR period can also be ordered from the Russian Information Agency–Novosti (RIA-Novosti), whose London office retains an archive of photographs from the Soviet/Russian space programme. Finally, the British Interplanetary Society is a good source of space material, but is normally only open to its own members.



    British Interplanetary Society, 27/29 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1SZ; Tel: 020-7735-3160; Fax: 020-7820-1504; Email: .

    Hulton|Archive, Unique House, 21-31 Woodfield Road, London W9 2BA; Tel: 020 7266 2662 (Sales), 020 7579 5777 (Research); Fax: 020 7266 3154, 020 7266 2414; E-Mail: (Research), (Sales).

    Mary Evans Picture Library, 59 Tranquil Vale, Blackheath, London SE3 0BS; Tel: 020 8318 0034. Fax: 020 8852 7211.

    Russian Information Agency–Novosti (RIA-Novosti) (Russian HQ only). London office: 3 Rosary Gardens, London SW7 4NW; Tel: 020-7370-1873 (photo library); Fax: 020-7244-7875; Email: .

    Science Photo Library, 327-329 Harrow Road, London W9 3RB; Tel: 020-7432-1100; Fax: 020-7286-8668.


    3. Archival sources

    Many archival sources are privately run, and in all cases it is normal courtesy to make preliminary contact by letter (enclosing s.a.e.) or telephone to ascertain whether it is possible to visit. Information is sometimes available on the relevant website.

    American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843, Email: .
    Includes the Emilio Segre Visual Archives, focusing on 20th century American physicists and astronomers, but including many scientists in Europe and elsewhere, and in earlier times.

    California Institute of Technology (Caltech), 1200 East California Boulevard, Pasadena, California 91125, Email: .
    Contains the Caltech Archives PhotoNet, an online database containing thousands of images, including portraits.

    International Index. At the Archenhold Observatory, East Berlin, the Director, Dr D.B.Herrmann, is compiling an international index of holdings of portraits of astronomers. A handlist of this up to 1984 by K. Friedrich is held at the RAS, and more up-to-date information can be obtained by writing to Dr D.B.Hermann, Director, Archenhold-Sternwarte, Alt-Treptow 1, 12435 Berlin, Germany, Email: . Note that they do not hold the portraits themselves but can supply guidance as to where they can be found.

    Lick Observatory Archives. An excellent source for portraits especially 20th century and American figures is the Mary Lea Shane Archives of the Lick Observatory, held at 359 McHenry Library, University of California, Santa Cruz CA 95064, Email: .
    The handlist of this collection is now available on their website, and is also available at the RAS, Lick Observatory, Preliminary Finding Aid to the Archives of the Lick Observatory, pp 43-54.

    Museum of the History of Science, Image Library, Old Ashmolean Building, Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3AZ, Tel: 01865 277285: Fax: 01865 277288; Email: .
    Holds a large collection of photographs, including portraits of scientists and instrument makers.

    NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) Imagery Services.
    Contains the NASA JSC Digital Image Collection, the most comprehensive NASA collection for portraits, which spans the whole manned space programme and includes portraits of cosmonauts for missions on which the USA and Russia collaborated. Images can be downloaded from its website; for publication-quality pictures, contact Media Resource Center, 2101 NASA Road 1, Building 423/AP32/IMPASS, Houston, TX 77058, USA.

    National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2H 0HE, is the national repository of portraiture and has many portraits of British scientists. They can also supply references to portrait holdings in other repositories. Portraits in the Gallery's Primary Collection are held in the Picture Library; the Heinz Archive and Library should be contacted for more complex enquiries. Picture Library: Tel: 020 7312 2473/6; Fax: 020 7312 2464; Email: . Heinz Archive and Library: Tel: 020 7306 0055 ext 257; Fax: 020 7306 0056; Email: .

    Royal Greenwich Observatory archives, now held by Cambridge University Library. These have a number of portraits including all the Astronomers Royal and some other figures connected with Greenwich Observatory. Contact Adam Perkins, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR, Tel: 01223 333000 (Enquiries); Fax: 01223 333160: Email: .

    Royal Society, 6 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG; Tel: 020-7451-2606; Fax: 020 7930 2170; Email: .
    Has numerous portraits mainly of former Fellows.

    San Diego State University Library, Malcolm A. Love Library, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego CA 92182-8050; Email:
    Holds the Ernst Zinner collection of portraits, mainly of astronomers, though many are secondary copies. This catalogue is now available on their website, and a handlist by G. Johns is also available for consultation.

    Science & Society Picture Library
    Has since 1998 represented the collections of the National Museum of Science and Industry, comprising the Science Museum, the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, and the National Railway Museum. It can be contacted at the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD; Tel: 020-7942 4400; Fax: 020 7942 4401: Email: . It holds numerous portraits (not restricted to British subjects).


    4. Websites

    Portrait Websites:

    Astro Info Service. Their services include biographical profiles of astronauts and cosmonauts, with portraits, which will eventually be available by mail order; some of these can be downloaded from their website.

    MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive, University of St Andrews. Portraits of many individuals are available, and can be downloaded as posters.


    NASA websites:

    These can be used to locate portraits of astronauts, and cosmonauts involved in US space missions. NASA does not currently make copies of images directly available to the general public, but images may be downloaded from its websites. Many of these offer multiple formats for the images, including high-resolution versions suitable for printing. Publication-standard copies of NASA images may also be obtained by media representatives or NASA research partners by contacting the Public Affairs Office of the responsible NASA Center– a good one for portraits is the Johnson Space Center (JSC); they may also be purchased from certain commercial sources – those in the UK include the Science Photo Library (q.v.) and the Hulton|Archive (q.v.). 'Off-the-peg' NASA images and products are available from local science centres and planetaria.

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This revision by M.I. Chibnall from an original by P.D. Hingley, with contributions by I. Howarth, J. Lane,

J. Mitton, and M.Penston.


The information in this document is believed to be correct at the time of publication, but is subject to change. We welcome corrections or suggestions; please contact the RAS Librarian or webmaster.