Fascinating Early-20th-Century Color Photos of Famous People


There are some historical figures who we always think of in black and white. After all, the world trucked on in monochrome, Pleasantville-style, until the middle of the 20th century, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, color photography dates back to the mid-1800s — the first three-color process photo was taken in 1855, but it wasn’t until 1907 that the first commercially viable method of color photography, Lumière Autochrome, was invented — and perhaps unsurprisingly, photographers jumped to take snapshots of their famous friends. Below, some notable characters, from Mark Twain to Auguste Rodin, whom we usually see in black and white, showing their true colors.

Mark Twain, photographed by Alvin Coburn, 1908. [via]

The only known color photograph of Leo Tolstoy, taken at his at his Yasnaya Polyana estate by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, 1908. [via]

What may be the only color photograph of King Edward VII, taken by Lionel de Rothschild in 1909 and found in a cupboard some 100 years later by his grandson. [via]

George Bernard Shaw, photographed by Alvin Langdon Coburn in 1907. [via]

Auguste Rodin and his sculpture Eve, photographed by Edward Steichen, 1907. [via]

Charlie Chaplin, c. 1917. [via]

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, photographed by Arnold Genthe, 1914. [via]

Emilie Flöge, whom we are used to seeing in color, but only in the paintings of her lover Gustav Klimt, photographed by Friedrich Walker, c. 1910. [via]

And Gustav Klimt himself, photographed by Friedrich Walker, c.1910. [via]

Just for fun, another gorgeous shot of Mark Twain by Alvin Langdon Coburn, 1908. [via]