Francis Alfred Bolton was born in England in 1866 to a wealthy family. He inherited the family's extensive copper works outside Cheadle and the nearby estate of Moor Court in Staffordshire. He had a keen interest in the new invention of automobiles, as was evidenced in his photographs and paintings of this subject.
His interest in photography was probably sparked by his friend and photographer, Hugo Meynell, who had founded the Postal Pictorial-Photographic Club. Bolton invited this club and other photography societies to hold their meetings at Moor Court.
About 1895 or 1896 Bolton started to send out his own pictorial photographs to exhibitions in London, Glasgow, Dublin and Birmingham, as well as more internationally to Paris and even the U.S. (at the Second Philadelphia Photographic Salon at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which was judged by his fellow Linked Ring member F. Holland Day; and at the 1899 Photographic Salon at the American Institute). Bolton became a member of the Royal Photographic Society and began exhibiting regularly with this important group beginning in 1896 and continued until 1901. In all, he exhibited 18 photographs just at these R.P.S. venues. He later received the Society's highest award of distinction when the group named him a fellow (F.R.S.P.) in 1899. Except for his first year (then offered at one guinea), Bolton's photographs were offered at a relatively expensive two guineas each at the R.P.S. exhibitions.
In March 1899, Bolton purchased a 10 x 12 inch Watson studio camera. Shortly afterwards he was asked to join the Linked Ring on October 30, 1900.
Membership in the Linked Ring was by invitation and was based on merit. A total of 114 photographers were ever invited into the group, which was active until 1910. While the group was founded in London by Henry Peach Robinson and included many other important English photographers, such as Frank Sutcliffe, Frederick Evans and Paul Martin, it was also to become highly influential internationally. It set new standards for photography and positioned the medium as a fine art. The Linked Ring was also at the vanguard of the Secessionist Movement in photography. International members included such important photographers as Robert Demachy, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Frank Eugene, Pierre Dubreuil, F. Holland Day, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Heinrich Kuehn, Rudolf Duhrkoop, Rudolph Eickmeyer, E.J.C. Puyo and Clarence White, among others.
Bolton exhibited at least nine images in four Linked Ring exhibitions in 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902. His "professional" pseudonym was "Missionary". Such strange pseudonyms were the norm, especially for most of the male English members.
Bolton worked in the more difficult alternative processes, including carbon, gum bichromate and platinum prints, although he did make the occasional silver print as well. According to at least one source, Bolton was influenced by many of his fellow Linked Ring members, including Alfred Maskell (on his landscapes) and even F. Holland Day (on his figurative portraits). Bolton's innocent portraits of his young nephew David Bolton belie the darker, more enigmatic relationship, which is more apparent in Bolton's frank diaries. In this he shared the same obsessions as another earlier English photographer, Lewis Carroll. Bolton's favorite subjects were the familiar terrain of the moors, the hills, the seaside and his nephew. He also apparently took photographs on a trip to Germany near Wahn, which is close to Cologne.
Bolton abandoned photography suddenly and his pictures were stored in the family attic until recently. Perhaps it was due to the duties of High Sheriff of Staffordshire, which he assumed in 1919. He died in 1951.
The photographs here represent many of Bolton's working prints and are most of what remain of his work, apart from a few prints in the Royal Photographic Society collection. Some show his progress towards the ultimate finished exhibition print and others show a more complete vision.
Bolton is mentioned in Margaret Harker's book "The Linked Ring, the Secessionist Movement in Photography in Britain (1892-1910). He is also listed in the George Eastman House database and Auer and Auer database. Motor Sport magazine ran an article in its November 1979 issue on "Mr. Bolton's Cars" and The Car magazine's March 3, 1915 issue also ran an article entitled, "Cars & Country Houses, No. CLV--Moor Court, Oakamoor, the Home of Mr. Francis Bolton".
Bolton's manuscript journals are on loan to Oakamoor PCC, Staffordshire.
This article owes much to those sources cited above and to the auction house information on this collection of work.