Eadweard Muybridge (1830 ~1904)

Eadweard Muybridge was born in Kingston on Thames in 1830, when he was known by the somewhat duller name of Edward James Muggeridge.

At the age of 22 he left England for America to seek his fame and fortune. He first worked in New York as a bookbinder's agent, and then moved on to San Francisco where his interest in photography bloomed. Using a mobile darkroom that he christened The Flying Studio, he produced stunning stereoscopic landscapes, such as this one from within a volcano…

The fame that Muybridge desired finally came about when he was hired by the railroad baron, Leland Stanford. A passionate racing horse breeder commissioned the photographer to solve the age old argument as to the whether or not a running horse ever lifts all four feet from the ground - and Muybridge was able to prove that, yes it really did!

The method he used was to set up several cameras, each with its shutter attached to a thread. As the horse ran past and broke each thread, so an instant exposure was produced.

The public were amazed to see the results, and Muybridge went on to develop his art, producing a substantial body of work which was published in the books Animal Locomotion, and The Human Figure in Motion.

Muybridge's study of wrestlers

Francis Bacon's 'Two Fighters'

Such systematic studies of the science of motion went on to inspire Francis Bacon, as seen in the painting above. 

In his own time Muybridge's work also inspired early film makers, many of whom would have been aware of his development of the Zoopraxiscope which involved printing a series of images onto a circular base that was then made to spin around so as to give the illusion of movement. In other words, animation. The basis of moving film.

A Zoopraxiscope a couple dancing
Click HERE to see the animation in process

A sweet and romantic picture can be seen in the image above. But Muybridge's own love life was beset by violence and tragedy.

He married somewhat late in life, falling in love with Flora Shallcross Stone, a young woman aged twenty-one. While Muybridge was often absent, travelling with his cameras, Flora was wooed by another man, a threatre critic called Major Harry Larkyns. When Muybridge discovered the affair and suspected that Larkyns had fathered his wife's seven month old son, he confronted his rival in person, addressing him with the words: "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife." The answer was a bullet. The major was shot dead.

Muybridge was tried for murder, but was then acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide, after his lawyers successfully argued that a head injury resulting from a stage coach accident some years before had affected their client's rationality.

For Flora, the nightmare was far from over. Not only had her husband divorced her, but she became very ill with typhoid. Before she tragically died, she placed her child, Florado, into the care of a French couple. However soon after this Muybridge had the child removed and sent to a Protestant orphanage. Years later when 'Floddie' was a man he worked as a ranch hand and gardener, and was often said to bear an uncanny resemblance to the famous Eadweard Muybridge.

This tragic period in Muybridge's life inspired an opera by Philip Glass. Composed in 1982, The Photographer's libretto is drawn from transcripts of the trial, and also letters written by Muybridge to his wife.  Act 1 - A Gentleman's Honour - can be heard on youtube.

In his later life Muybridge returned to Kingston on Thames where he died in 1904. His equipment and photographic prints were bequeathed to the Kingston Museum.

Muybridge's historically significant animated view of a buffalo galloping over the plains can be seen here.


  1. Hi Sarah, many years ago I wrote a novel (unpublished) about Muybridge. By a bizarre coincidence, I'm rereading it at the moment.

    I always thought it was an amazing story. I felt there was some connection between Muybridge's attempts to hold on to time and the fact that he ended up killing his wife's lover. A controlling instinct? I dunno. Great post.

  2. Roger, how amazing! I had no idea about the murder of his wife's lover. Will you try and submit your novel again?

    I've been desperately trying to find an online link to Philip Glass's opera. (love his music and would think the taut, controlling repetition which colours his work would be the perfect background to such a poignant story.


  3. When was Glass's opera written? I didn't know about it. Or at least, I don't think I did. I have a goldfish memory. Someone might have told me and it slipped my mind. Sounds perfect, as you say.

  4. Thank you, Neo Victorianist,

    I really love Philip Glass and that track sounds wonderful. I'll just put the link into the body of the post.


  5. This is a fascinating history. Thank you for the information! Obviously a very interesting albeit tragic life.

    And the music is beautiful -- thanks for posting the link.

  6. Thank you, Stephanie - the music is beautiful. I now have the CD.


  7. That is one of the most fascinating posts I have read in a long while. I knew some of it, but there was much that was new which made powerful connections for me. A quick shimmy through suggests that the rest of your blog is as thrilling. I shall be back. Thank you.

  8. So glad you enjoyed the post, Dave.


  9. I didn't know any of this. The father of animation. This has sparked my need to know more button! I will also be on the look out for Phillip Glass's Opera. Thank you for such an intriguing story from history.