The Strange Case of Monsieur Albert Boucher, Brighton Photographer

The Strange Case of Monsieur Albert Boucher, Brighton Photographer

Today I am going to tell you the strange story of Monsieur Albert Boucher, a photographer who had his studio in Brighton, Sussex, England.

I had no idea of the existence of this Monsieur Boucher, until my attention was recently drawn to it by my assistant, Rebecca, who knew of him for reasons she will one day divulge herself, had already bought a couple of stereo cards bearing his name and had chanced upon another photograph that was for sale but the price of which was something of a deterrent. I looked at the card, liked its condition and composition and decided to buy it. When it arrived, from Greece, I actually liked it so much that I contacted the seller and asked him if he had any other images by the same photographer. It was a lucky shot but it turned out he had two more, which I also bought, one of which showing two of the same persons that featured on the first card I had acquired. With these three stereo images, to which were added another three from Rebecca’s collection and a couple of cartes-de-visite, I had enough illustrations to start working on this article. All that remained was to do some research and dig up the past, something I really enjoy doing. I was not, however, expecting to find what I did.

My first lucky strike was to discover that there is a webpage devoted to two photo albums that had belonged to a Janie Boucher, the grand-daughter of the photographer Monsieur Boucher, and had been donated to the Brighton Museum in 1993, one year after their owner’s death [1]. These two albums contain family photographs which are reproduced on the website and show portraits of most of the members of the Boucher family, and, most importantly, of Monsieur Boucher himself and of his wife. As I have already mentioned in a previous article, it is not very often you are given the privilege of discovering the features of a photographer, this particular species being generally more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. The website also gives some scant information about the photographer, namely that he was born in 1840, died in 1875 and had two studios in Brighton, one at 23 Ship Street, and the second at 15 King’s Road, both addresses which I already knew about from the cards and CDVs I had bought.

My next step was to try and learn more about Monsieur Boucher and his wife, Elizabeth Marie, née Dando. My first port of call was the 1871 census which lists him as living at 23 Ship Street with his wife, born at Wrington, Somerset, his son Adolphe, born at Clifton, Bristol, and a boarder, a shop assistant named Susan Dando, who was none other than his wife’s younger sister, also born at Wrington. I was hoping to find where this Monsieur Boucher was born but a first glance at the census slip revealed this:

Small Illustration1-1871 census-DT

Illustration 1 – 1871 census for Brighton. Part of the enumeration slip showing M. Boucher’s birthplace (third line from the top).

You can make out the first word, France, and another word beginning with the letter F and followed by letters which are almost illegible, then the definite article La. Not much to go on, is there ? Undaunted, I tried looking at those words again and again, getting back to them repeatedly until it suddenly struck me that the word beginning with an F could be Ferrière. Being French born myself I know there are places called La Ferrière in France since I used to drive through one quite regularly. I just had never realised before there were so many ! I looked at the online archives of every single La Ferrière in France [2] but could not find any Albert Boucher born around 1840. I therefore tried a different approach and started researching his father whose first name I knew to be Nicolas Auguste, from Albert’s 1867 wedding certificate. I found one Nicolas Auguste Boucher in the departement of Orne, Normandy, and for some strange reason, I had a hunch I had found the right one although he was living in a place called Saint-Pierre-des-Loges, not La Ferrière. There are four villages called La Ferrière in Orne: La Ferrière-au-Doyen, La Ferrière-aux-Etangs, La Ferrière-Béchet and La Ferrière-Bochard. I had been through their archives but, trusting my hunch, I decided to have another go, just in case. Nothing, however. I had another look at the list of places beginning with F in Orne and then I struck gold. Just after the four villages above-mentioned was one called Ferrières-La-Verrerie. Oh my, how blind I had been ! That name had been there all along. Getting back to the census it was now clear that the place name was not La Ferrière but Ferrière[s] La V…. (the little “tick-like” letter at the end of the line on the census slip is actually a V). It seems obvious once you know it is there but believe me it was not clear at all to begin with.

Going through the archives of Ferrières-La-Verrerie [3], I soon found out that Albert Adolphe Boucher was born there on 9 December 1840, the son of Nicolas Auguste Boucher, a twenty-three year old instituteur (primary school teacher) and of his wife Joséphine Froger, twenty-four.

Finding all the information about young Albert’s family was plain sailing after that.

His father was born on 22 August 1817 at Saint-Pierre-des-Loges, and his mother was born in the same place just over one year before, on 12 August 1816. They got married at Saint-Pierre-des-Loges – people rarely left their birthplaces then – on 29 October 1838 and their marriage was blessed with two children, Célestine Eugénie, born on 31 July 1839, also at Saint-Pierre-des-Loges, and Albert Adolphe, who was born one year later in the nearby village of Ferrières-La-Verrerie where his father had been appointed.

Albert’s mother died at Bellou-en-Houlme, Orne, on 6 May 1873. His father married again on 4 September 1874 but spent less than five years with his new wife, Françoise Stéphanie Toutain, since he died, also at Bellou-en-Houlme, on 29 April 1879, surviving his son by nearly four years.

Being the son of a teacher we may assume Albert Adolphe not only got some proper education but, as was generally the case, followed his father’s footsteps. We know from an advertisement published in the Western Daily Press on 3 January 1866 that he had a “Brevet de Capacité” (Teaching Certificate) from the Académie of Caen, which means he was a fully qualified teacher. That’s about all we know about his studies.

Some time around 1865, for reasons which remain unknown, young Albert Boucher left Normandy and moved to Britain, to the Bristol area to be more specific, where he started advertising he was giving French and Drawing lessons. Here is the earliest of these advertisements I have found so far, issued in the Western Daily Press, on 3 August 1865:

FRENCH and DRAWING LESSONS given DAILY, in Schools or Private Families, by Mons. ALBERT BOUCHER. Ladies and Gentlemen forming EVENING CLASSES will find the Terms very moderate. – For further particulars address Mons. BOUCHER, Post Office, Clifton.

We learn from a later advertisement, on 27 September 1865, that the “very moderate terms” mentioned are actually half a guinea per head and per quarter for Evening Classes. The same advert also tells us that Monsieur Boucher now has a permanent address and is living at 8, St. Michael’s Hill, Bristol. The name of Albert Boucher also appears in the press on 7 November 1865 as the recipient of a 10 shilling prize for a crayon drawing, the subject of which, alas, not being specified.

On 3 January 1866 a new advert informs us that Monsieur Boucher is now the “Resident French Teacher” at Wrington Academy, near Bristol. A second ad on the same day gives us more information about Albert Boucher’s talents as an artist and shows that he was already interested in human portraits:

MONS. ALBERT BOUCHER begs respectfully to inform the public, and especially the Principals of the Schools of Bristol, that his Process for the HEAD DRAWING is uncommonly quick and easy, consequently the Students are able to work a greater number of Drawings than by any other Process. Besides this advantage, the Drawings have a softer appearance, and can bear a close inspection.
Mons. Boucher will be happy to satisfy those desiring to see a specimen of his work, or his pupils’, if they will kindly call, or apply by letter. [4]

I would love to find and examine a sample of this process. If anyone has seen one, please send me an image.

A few lines published on 28 February 1866 informed the Gentry of Clifton and Bristol that Monsieur Boucher had again moved to new premises, this time at 6 Bruton Place, near Meridian Place.

It must be while he was a teacher at Wrington Academy that Albert Boucher met Elizabeth Dando, his future wife. Born at Wrington, Somerset, at the beginning of October 1838, the daughter of Henry Jeffery Dando (1802-1856), a solicitor’s clerk, and of his second wife, Mary Brock (1805-1886), Elizabeth was baptised on 12 October and is listed as living at the same Wrington in the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censi. In the latter census she is described as a draper’s assistant, which is all we know about her before she married Adolphe Boucher on 10 January 1867, at Bristol, in nearby Gloucestershire.

Over one year later, on 25 November, their unique child, Adolphe Augustus, was born at Clifton, where he was also baptised on 14 December.

Although he no longer advertised after his marriage, we may suppose Albert Boucher carried on giving French and Drawing lessons before deciding on a sudden change of place and career. Some time in 1870 the Boucher family moved to Brighton, Sussex, where the twenty-nine year old paterfamilias took over the photographic studio previously run by Brighton optician Lewis Dixey (1814-1895) and his wife Arabella, née Tanner (1827-1911), at 23 Ship Street.

By the end of the year the studio was in full operation as is evidenced by the following advertisement, printed on the last page of the Brighton Gazette on 6 October and nearly every week afterwards until June 1871:

Begs to call the attention of Visitors to his
All Portraits taken by MONSIEUR BOUCHER himself.
Cartes-de-Visite, reduced to 10s. and 7s. 6d. per doz.
One beautiful Cabinet Portrait for 3s. 6d.
Best Artistic Results, combined with Moderate Charges.
MONSIEUR BOUCHER undertakes ENLARGEMENTS & PAINTINGS of every description, even on Photographs not taken at his Studio.
Facing Prince Albert Street.

I am sorry to say I still have to see samples of his “celebrated Penny Postage Stamp Portraits” [5] but his cartes de visite are, fortunately, easier to find.

Small Illustration2-Backs of CDVs

Illustration 2 – Albert Boucher. Backs of the Cartes-de-visite produced by the Boucher Studio.

In 1872 Albert Boucher seems to have published a tractate or pamphlet entitled “Hints to Sitters”, which we know about because it was mentioned in a letter to the editor of the Londonderry Sentinel published in the said newspaper on 6 June 1872. The author of this letter, which he signed A TRAVELLER, mentions a brochure by one Edmund Joseph Huther (c. 1841-1877), photographer in Londonderry, which bore the title “Hints to Sitters”, and which was a verbatim copy of one in his possession, published under the same title by Monsieur A. Boucher, of Brighton. “Now, who is the plagiarist”, asks the writer of the letter, “Monsieur A. Boucher or Edmund Huther ? I had Boucher’s in my pocket before I received or heard of Huther’s. […] Messrs. Boucher and Huther agree to the very words and the very letter, except in the price.”

I’m sorry to confess I have not been able to find either of the brochures, but similar “hints to sitters” were quite common at the time and continued to be so until the end of the century. They dealt mainly with what clothes to wear since the collodion process used at the time was mostly sensitive to blue and made everything red, or with red in it, appear black, even a flushed face. The reader will find in the notes a copy of one of those “hints to sitters”, written by a Mr. Turner, of Southport, and published in The British Journal of Photography on 5 November 1869 [6]. We may conjecture Monsieur Boucher’s tractate was along the same lines.

By 1873 Albert Boucher had renamed his studio “The Rembrandt Studio” and was advertising “Rembrandtesque Portraits” as evidenced in the following advertisement published in the Brighton Gazette on 3 April:

Invites an inspection of his Specimens of superb
And the exquisite delicacy of his ordinary Specimens.
MONS. BOUCHER’S Portraiture at the London Photographic Exhibition received high eulogium and unqualified approbation from the Photographic Press.
(Just below the Post Office)

In the Brighton Gazette of 3 October 1874, a person who called themselves OUTIE, published a “Poetical Tribute to Mons. A. Boucher”, which shows how much he was appreciated as an artist, even though there were other photographers in Brighton, the best-known of whom was undoubtedly John Edwin Jabez Mayall, the famous London portraitist who had repeatedly photographed Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children. It is such an unusual occurrence for a photo historian to find a such lyrical tribute addressed to a Knight of the Lens that I think it is worth quoting these lines verbatim even though it is neither Shakespeare, nor Wordsworth or Tennyson.

Rare art, rare artist ! to whose posed design
The magic pencils draws an unerring line;
As when on bosom of primeval night,
The great Creator breath’d and there was light,
As when the touch of master hand obeys
The plastic pigment known in earlier days;
Softness with sharpness in thy works appear
Faithful though flattering, and intense though clear;
Giving to furrow’d age or blooming youth,
Repose with dignity or grace with truth;
Of picturesque decay a limner clever,
Or fixing beauty as a “Joy for ever.” [7]

Just over a year after this poem was printed, Albert Boucher died. He passed away at 15, King’s Road on 17 November 1875, less than a month before his 34th birthday.

And this is when things get strange. To begin with, his death was not mentioned in the local press. The only mention of his passing I could find was published on 28 November in The Era, a weekly paper that was issued from 1838 to 1939 and was the longest-running theatrical trade periodical:

DIED, on the 17th inst., at Brighton, Mr. Albert Adolphus Boucher, the well-known photographer of musical and theatrical celebrities, aged thirty-four.

Not only did his death remain totally unnoticed, except for the short clipping above, but his business was carried on as if nothing had happened, and under the same name: Monsieur A. Boucher. We know that, at the time, one of the studios was run by Thomas Donovan (1837-1909), whom Boucher had made the acquaintance of when they were both living at Bristol and whom he had asked to join him in Brighton to operate his studio. Donovan came to Brighton around 1872, with his wife and four children and worked for Boucher, then for his widow, until 1877 or so. By 1878 he had opened his own studio in St. James Street, Brighton where he operated until his death on 15 December 1909. His business, however, did not die with him and was carried on by two of his children well into the early 1920s.

To go back to Albert Boucher, here is an advertisement that was published in the Brighton Gazette on 9 December 1875, twenty days after Boucher’s death:

15, King’s Road, Brighton.
The following letter has been received from the eminent Royal Academician,
Frederick Goodall, Esq.: –
“I have just received the first impression of your three Photographs. The full length (Boudoir) might have been done from a GAINSBOROUGH. It is quite a Picture; in fact, they are most artistically taken, and technically, as fine as any Photographs could be. – Yours very truly,

Reading these lines, one would never believe that Monsieur Boucher was no longer among the living and one may wonder what prompted his widow to adopt this unusual the-show-must-go-on attitude. Maybe it was the wish of Boucher himself. Maybe she was afraid she could lose everything (widows had very limited rights) and find herself destitute. We will probably never know for sure but the fact remains that Monsieur Boucher, despite being dead, continued to take photographs – photos taken after his death still bear the mention “photographed by Monsieur A. Boucher” – to be given awards, like the bronze medals “he” got at the 1878 International Paris Exhibition for “his” portraits, and to be complimented in the press on “his” images and on “his” skills as an artist.

It is now time to introduce the third Monsieur Boucher (the second one being Thomas Donovan whom I mentioned earlier), another Frenchman, named Bernard Ernest Chérifel de la Grave, who not only took over Boucher’s studio but married his widow on 4 August 1877. This happy event led to the first mention of Boucher’s demise in the local press:

On the August 4th, at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Upper North-street, Brighton, by the Rev. – Donneley, E. Cherifel de La Grave, of Stanford-road, Brighton, to Elizabeth Mary, widow of A. Boucher, of King’s-road. [8]

Before proceeding any further, let’s examine what happened in Mr Chérifel de la Grave’s life prior to his becoming Monsieur A. Boucher.

Bernard Ernest Chérifel de la Grave was born at Grignols, Dordogne, France, on 24 January 1828, the son of Pierre Chérifel (1798-1860), royal notary, and of his wife, Marguerite Allemandou. He married a first time on 10 December 1850, at Saint-Maime de Pereyrol, but his wife, Marie Joséphine Bibie, died just under one year later, on 11 October 1851, probably while or after giving birth. Chérifel married a second time at the mairie of the 11th arrondissement of Paris, on 2 April 1867. His wife, Anne Monfanges, was herself a widow with two daughters, Antoinette, born around 1856 in Dordogne, and Joséphine, born around 1861 in the same département [9]. Chérifel de la Grave was neither an artist or a photographer but a specialist of the German language, about which he published a Cours élémentaire théorique et pratique de la langue allemand (theoretical and practical elementary course of the German language) in 1862, followed the next year by Les Langues vivantes et l’enseignement professionnel (Modern Languages and techincal teaching). In 1865, we find him head of a teaching institution at Saint-Mandé, near Paris, and four years later he is in Brighton where he has the following advertisement published in the Brighton Gazette:

DR. E. CHÉRIFEL LA GRAVE. M.A., Agrégé of the University of Paris, twenty years’ experience in the Imperial College of Paris, and at the Philotechnic Society of the Seine.
Brighton – Lectures and Examinations : each 15s. ; a Series of Six, £4.
Vicinity – ……………………………. : £1; besides 6d. per mile.
Lessons in French and German Grammar.
The usual arrangement and allowances are made.
Dr. E. Chérifel la Grave has two vacancies for the sons of Gentlemen, who should be desirous to learn French and German thoroughly, without otherwise interrupting their study.
References of the highest character. Testimonials from more than 15 schools in Brighton where Dr. Chérifel la Grave is or has been engaged in lecturing, examining, or teaching grammar for the last two years.

In 1871 Chérifel de la Grave published a book, in English, called The First French Tutor and destined to learners of the French language. In April 1876, his wife of nine years, Anne, died at Brighton and Bernard Ernest found himself a widower for the second time. Just over a year later, he married, Elizabeth Mary Dando, widow of Albert Adolphe Boucher, and took over the running of the studio at 15 King’s road, as well as the name Monsieur A. Boucher.

His marriage to the former Mrs Boucher was blessed with two children, Ineis, born in 1881, and Ernest Albert, born in 1883.

This brings us, at last, to the stereo photographs.

The first one I bought shows Elizabeth Mary Dando, former wife of Monsieur Boucher and now Mrs. de La Grave. On her right is her husband, or a person whom I firmly believe to be her husband. Although the album bequeathed to the town of Brighton after Janie Boucher’s death does not seem to contain any photographs of Mr. Chérifel de la Grave, there is a picture of his son Ernest who looks in every way a younger version of the man in the stereocard. The young lady next to him, with her hand on his shoulder, could be one of his daughters and if so most certainly the elder, Antoinette. As for the books on the table, they might be copies of the volumes written by Mr. de la Grave himself. Lots of conjectures, you may say, but I would rather call them educated guesses.

Small Illustration3-De la Grave Wife and Daughter

Illustration 3 – Boucher studio. Stereoscopic card. Monsieur Ernest Bernard Chérifel de la Grave, his wife, the former Mrs Boucher (right) and probably one of his daughters (left).

The second image shows two of the people that featured in the first photograph plus another young woman (probably Joséphine de la Grave) as well as a baby who cannot be more than six months old. If we consider the baby to be Mrs de la Grave’s then it must be Ineis, born in 1881, which dates the photograph to around 1881-2. What strikes me most in this image is that, although the four figures are very clearly standing out against a light coloured backdrop, they seem to be outside, not in a studio. Note the uneven ground and the presence of some pebbles. 

Small Illustration4-De la Grave Wife Baby and Daughter

Illustration 4 – Boucher studio. Stereoscopic card. Monsieur Ernest Bernard Chérifel de la Grave, his wife, the former Mrs Boucher (right) with the young Ineis on her lap and one of de la Grave’s daughters on the left.

I have no idea who the young woman in the third stereo card is but she looks very much like older portraits of Ineis de la Grave, so she may be related.

Small Illustration5-Portrait of unidentified woman

Illustration 5 – Boucher studio. Stereoscopic card. Portrait of an unidentified young woman, probably related to Monsieur Chérifel de la Grave.

The fourth picture is a later portrait featuring Ineis de la Grave when she was about five or six years old. The original was quite heavily retouched but I got rid of the retouching when I digitally cleaned the image.

Small Illustration6-Ineis de la Grave

Illustration 6 – Boucher studio. Stereoscopic card. Portrait of Ineis de la Grave aged four or five.

The fifth and sixth stereo cards were taken outside but I have no idea who the people featured are, although the elderly man and one of the children appear to be the same in both pictures.

Small Illustration7-Stereo with horse and carriage

Illustration 7 – Boucher studio. Stereoscopic card.

Small Illustration8-Stereo bend in the road

Illustration 8 – Boucher studio. Stereoscopic card.

The Boucher Studio carried on until about 1885. The last advertisement for it I could find was dated 3 April 1884:

Monsieur Boucher’s Establishment, situated in the most prominent part of the King’s Road, is one of the largest and best appointed in the Kingdom.
A most efficient Staff of Artists in every department. Instantaneous process in constant use.
Although in every branch of his Art Mr. Boucher’s work is recognises by all to be of the very highest class, his patrons will find his charges moderate.

Nothing in these lines indicate a studio which is about to close and I have to confess I do not know what caused Mr. and Mrs. Chérifel de la Grave to put an end to their activities. Mr. de la Grave was only fifty-seven years old in 1885 and his wife was ten years younger. He resumed his teaching career, moved to Hammersmith, London, and lived to the age of sixty-five. He passed away in 1893 and was survived by his wife by thirty-four years ! His stepson Adolphe Albert Boucher, became a photographer in his turn but he lived in Twickenham then in East Finchley and was not active in Brighton.

There is probably a lot more to say about the Boucher family but I will nevertheless draw this post to an end with the hope that somebody will be inspired to dig deeper and longer and uncover more stereoscopic images from the Boucher studio.

Denis Pellerin



[2] It is really fortunate that these days there exists online archives for every departement in France. Barely ten years ago this research would have meant writing to every single town hall of every single place called La Ferrière. I know because I did that a lot, and for over twenty years, when I started being a photo historian. It cost me a fortune in stamps (there was the stamp on the envelope and I always put a self-addressed stamped envelope inside for the answer) and you often had to wait for a long time before you got an answer, when you did. The younger generation of researchers are very lucky indeed that most things can now be found online, and for free.

[3] Ferrières-La-Verrerie had some 739 souls in 1841 but the last census (2017) counted only 149 inhabitants. Not really a metropolis !

[4] Western Daily Press, Wednesday 3 January 1866, p. 1 of 4.

[5] Photographers were often prone to exaggeration in their advertisements and there is nothing in the press of the time to show these portraits were really popular.

[6] The British Journal of Photography. 5 November 1869, p. 532.


Go early in the day, when you are fresh after the night’s repose and the morning wash; before you have got fatigued by being busy or by doing nothing during the day; before you have met with some annoyance, which any person may meet with before afternoon, and which will, very likely, show on the countenance, and change the expression. Go early, when the photographer is fresh after a night’s sound repose, and before he has met with some nervous, restless sitter or spoiled child to try his temper and patience; for, if the artist be in good humour, you will be more likely to have a pleasant expression than if the contrary be the case. Go also alone, or with one quiet friend, who will retire when the plate is being exposed. More depends upon this being attended to than is generally supposed. If you have a number of friends with you, or one laughing, giggling friend, who will keep you constantly laughing and talking, you will not get a good likeness, simply because they keep your nerves so excited that you cannot keep perfectly quiet, and the slightest movement destroys the expression of the eyes and of the whole countenance. Another reason is, when there is a number of friends in the studio the artist cannot arrange his blinds properly, as he cannot see how the light will fall upon the sitter, as some person is sure to be obstructing some of the lights, and he can only go by guess. The arrangement of the light is most important—in fact, the most important of the whole process, as no two persons almost will bear the same light. Some persons will bear much more light on the face than others; some will bear more side light, some require more top light; others require more front light, to give the proper expression to the face. Therefore, go alone, and give the artist fair play; and if he does not give you a good likeness, then blame him.

In dressing, remember that in photography blue is light, and red or orange is dark; and, therefore, the more blue anything contains the lighter it will be, and the more red or orange it contains the darker it will be. Thus, purple, violet, mauve, magenta will be light, because they contain a large proportion of blue; scarlet, brown, and olive-green will be dark, because they contain a large proportion of orange or red ; blue-green or sea-green will be much lighter, because it contains a much larger proportion of blue. Another thing to be particularly observed is, that whatever reflects back light comes out white, such as the polish on boots, the gloss on silks, oil on the hair, &c. ; hence black hair with much oil will come out as if grey.

Many err in supposing that sunshine is necessary when taking photographs, as good cartes can be got even when raining.

[7] Limner is an archaic word that designates a painter, more particularly one who specialises in portraits or miniatures.

[8] Brighton Guardian, Wednesday 15 August 1877, p. 8 of 8.

[9] It is not clear whether they are his daughters or step-daughters. They bear his name in the 1871 census but unless they were born outside the bonds of matrimony they are more likely to be his second wife’s children. I know they were both born in Dordogne but I have no clue as to their actual birthplace, or birthplaces if they were different

[10] Brighton Gazette, Thursday 29 July 1869, p. 4 of 8.

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