Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period

Frederick Coulson, American, 1869-1931, <em>Untitled,</em> March 1,1894, cyanotype, Eliza S. Paine Fund, 2010.271.32

January 16 - April 24, 2016
Prints, Drawings and Photographs Gallery

Invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842, cyanotypes are photographs with a distinctive Prussian blue tonality produced by treating paper with an iron-salt solution. The treated paper can be developed using only the sun, which made cyanotypes a favored technique among amateur photographers through the turn of the twentieth century. Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period will trace the rise of these "blueprint photographs" beginning with the botanical photogenic drawings printed by Anna Atkins in the 1850s. The exhibition will also feature contemporary artists who have recently revived the process manipulating the medium to varied expressive effects.

Organized in collaboration with a seminar from Clark University, the exhibition will be presented with thematic emphasis on botanicals, landscape, abstraction, and portraiture—areas that dominated much of the production of cyanotypes in the early twentieth century and recur in contemporary work. Artists on display include nineteenth and twentieth-century photographers Henry Bosse, Edward Sheriff Curtis, and F. Holland Day, and contemporary artist Christian Marclay.

Sponsored in part by:

Select Images

Anna Atkins, British, 1799-1871, <em>Honey Locust Leaf Pod,</em> about 1854, cyanotype, Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 1989.9 Arthur Wesley Dow, American, 1957-1922, <em>Flowers with Pods</em>, about 1895, cyanotype, Sarah C. Garver Fund, 1997.74 Christian Marclay, American, Unwound Cassette Tape, 2012, cyanotype, Courtesy of Elizabeth and Michael Marcus, E.90.15.1 Annie Lopez, Medical Conditions, 2013, cyanotype printed on tamale wrapping paper, Courtesy of the Artist, ©Annie Lopez


This exhibition features two publications, Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period and Frederick Coulson: Blueprints of a Golden Age. Both catalogues are available for purchase by visiting The Museum Shop or calling 508-793-4355.

University Collaboration

Clark University Cyanotypes Experience

Eleven art history students from Clark University spent the fall 2015 semester researching cyanotypes in preparation for this exhibition. The final product of their work will appear in the forthcoming exhibition catalogue. Each student wrote a short piece about the experience of working on this project.
Click below to read their words and see their own photos of the research process.

Mehran Ali '16

Gabrielle Belisle '17

Alex Gray '17

Grant Henry '17

Aviv Hilbig-Bokaer '17

Mary Iorio '17

Hannah Jaffe '16

Hannah Millen '16

Abby Moon '17

Rachel Polinsky '16

Casey Shea '16



Cyanotype, Photography's Blue Period, Is Making a Comeback - New York Times
What's Next: True Blue - Elle Decor
Photography's Blue Period Gets Its First Major Show in the US - Hyperallergic
At Worcester, photography gets the blues - The Boston Globe
Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period at The Worcester Art Museum - Photograph
Blue Revival (pdf) / (web) - Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Worcester Art Museum Presents Cyanotypes: Photography's Blue Period - Worcester Magazine WGBH Video: Open Studio with Jared Bowen: Cyanotypes and Actor Mark Rylance