Julia Margaret Cameron

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Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Margaret Cameron MET DP114480 - Restoration.jpg
Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron by Henry Herschel Hay Cameron, her son, in 1870
Julia Margaret Pattle

(1815-06-11)11 June 1815
Died26 January 1879(1879-01-26) (aged 63)
Known forPhotography

Julia Margaret Cameron (née Pattle; 11 June 1815 – 26 January 1879) was a British photographer[1] known for her portraits of celebrities and for images with Arthurian and other legendary or heroic themes.

Cameron's photographic career was short, spanning eleven years of her life (1864–1875). She took up photography at the relatively late age of 48, when she was given a camera as a present.[2]

Her style was not widely appreciated in her own day. Her choice to use soft focus and to treat photography as an art as well as a science caused her works to be viewed as "slovenly", marred by "mistakes".[citation needed] She found more acceptance among pre-Raphaelite artists than among photographers.[3]

Her work, especially her closely cropped portraits, has influenced modern photographers.[4] Dimbola Lodge, her house on the Isle of Wight, is open to the public.


Early life and education[edit]

On 11 June 1815, Julia Margaret Cameron was born Julia Margaret Pattle at Garden Reach, Calcutta, India,[5] to Adeline Marie de l'Etang and James Peter Pattle. Her father was a British official from England, in India while working for the East India Company.[5][6] Her mother was a French aristocrat—the daughter of Chevalier Ambrose Pierre Antoine de l'Etang, who had been a page of Marie Antoinette and an officer in the Garde du Corps of King Louis XVI.[7] Julia was the fourth of ten children,[5] and one of seven to survive to adulthood; three of her siblings died as infants.[8]

The seven Prattle sisters—known for their closeness, proud dispositions, unusual behaviour, and strange appearance—were all sent to France as children to be educated. Julia lived there with her maternal grandmother from 1818 to 1834,[5][6][8] after which she returned to India.[9]

Marriage and social life[edit]

In 1835, after suffering several illnesses, Julia visited the Cape of Good Hope[6] in South Africa with her parents to recover.[5] It was common for Europeans living in India to visit South Africa to convalesce after an illness.[8] While there, she met British astronomer and photo chemist Sir John Herschel, who was observing the southern celestial hemisphere.[9] She also met Charles Hay Cameron, an Indian law and education reformer who later invested in coffee plantations in what is now Sri Lanka.[9]

Two years after meeting,[8] on 1 February 1838, they were married in Calcutta.[5] Between 1839 and 1852,[10] they had six children, one of whom was adopted.[6] Their only son, Henry Herschel Hay Cameron, would also become a photographer.[5]

A drawing of Julia Margaret Cameron by James Prinsep.

Through the early 1840s, as organiser of the social engagements of governor-general Lord Henry Hardinge, Cameron became a prominent hostess in Anglo-Indian society.[5] During this time she also corresponded with Herschel about the latest developments in photographic technology; in 1841, Herschel sent her calotypes, images made using an early process developed by William Henry Fox Talbot.[6]

The Camerons returned to England in 1845, where they took part in London's artistic and cultural scene.[11] Julia often visited her sister, Sara Prinsep, who oversaw a literary and artistic salon at Little Holland House, Kensington, London.[10] It was here that Julia met many of the well-known subjects of her later portraits, including Henry Taylor and Alfred Tennyson.[8]

In 1847, she had written some mediocre poetry, evidently began a novel, and published a translation of Gottfried August Bürger’s Leonora.[5][10]

Julia Margaret Cameron by George Frederic Watts. Oil on canvas, 1850-1852, 24 in. x 20 in. (610 mm x 508 mm).[12]

In 1848, her husband retired and the Camerons settled down in England, first to Tunbridge Wells in Kent,[13] then to East Sheen,[14]:7 London in 1850.[6][5] Around this time, George Frederic Watts starts working on a painting of Cameron.[14]:7 Up until 1860, the Camerons moved around England frequently, often to be closer to friends.[5] During this time, Cameron became a member of a society for art education and appreciation.[14]:7

In 1860, the family moved to Freshwater, Isle of Wight, becoming neighbours with Julia's friend, Alfred Tennyson.[5] She lived there until 1875.[15]

Photographic activity[edit]

Cameron showed an interest in photography in the late 1850s[8] and there are indications that she experimented with making photographs in the early 1860s.[11]

Around 1863, her daughter Julia and her son-in-law gave her her first camera (a sliding-box camera) as a Christmas present.[6] The gift was meant to provide a diversion while her husband was away in Ceylon tending to his coffee plantations.[11] Of the gift, her daughter stated "It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater."[16]

After receiving the camera, she cleared out a chicken coop and converted it into studio space.[17] In an unfinished autobiographical manuscript titled Annals of my Glasshouse, Cameron wrote:

"The profit of my boys upon new laid eggs was stopped, and all hands and hearts sympathised in my new labour, since the society of hens and chickens was soon changed for that of poets, prophets, painters and lovely maidens, who all in turn have immortalized the humble little farm erection."[8]

Cameron called this 29 January 1864 portrait of Annie Philpot her "first success."

On 29 January 1864 she captured the photo of a 9‐year‐old Annie Philpot.[8] She dubbed the image her "first success". That same year, she was elected to the Photographic Society of London (remaining a member until her death),[18] where she displayed work at their yearly exhibitions.[5]

The following year, she also became a member of the Photographic Society of Scotland and arranged to have her prints sold through the London dealers P. & D. Colnaghi.[19] She held her first solo exhibition in November 1865.[5] Her prints generated robust demand and she showed her work throughout Europe,[6] securing awards in Berlin in 1865 and 1866[5], and honourable mention in Dublin.[14]:8

In August 1865, the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria and Albert Museum, purchased 80 of her photographs.[14]:8 Three years later, the museum offered her two rooms to use as a portrait studio, essentially making her the museum's first artist-in-residence.[9]

Images of Thomas Carlyle and John Herschel were produced in 1867.[5]

In the 1870s, Cameron's work matured.[6] Her elaborate illustrative tableaus involving religious, literary, and classical figures peaked in a series of images for Tennyson's Idylles of the King, published in 1874 and 1875, evidently at her expense.[11][13]

Later life[edit]

In October 1873, during childbirth, her daughter died. The following year, she writes Annals of my Glass House, her memoir recounting her photographic activity.[14]:9

In October 1875,[5] because of her husband's ill health[13] and to be nearer to their sons and the family coffee plantations,[9] Cameron and her husband suddenly left Freshwater for Ceylon.[20] With them, they took "a cow, Cameron’s photographic equipment, and two coffins, in case such items should not be available in the East".[17] The move effectively marks the end of Cameron's photographic activity;[5] she took few photographs afterwards,[13] primarily of servants and local workers.[14]:9

On 26 January 1879[9], after suffering a dangerous chill,[6] Julia Margaret Cameron died at the Glencairn estate in Ceylon.[5] It is often reported that her last word was "Beauty"[11][20] or "Beautiful".[17] In her 12-year career, Cameron produced around 900 photographs.[16]

Style, technique, and reception[edit]

In her photography, Cameron strove to capture beauty. She wrote, "I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied."[14]:175[21] In 1869 she collated and gave what is now known as The Norman Album to her daughter and son-in-law in gratitude for having introduced her to photography.[22] The album was later deemed by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to be of "outstanding aesthetic importance and significance to the study of the history of photography and, in particular, the work of Julia Margaret Cameron — one of the most significant photographers of the 19th century."[23]

The basic techniques of soft-focus "fancy portraits", which she later developed, were taught to her by David Wilkie Wynfield. She later wrote that "to my feeling about his beautiful photography I owed all my attempts and indeed consequently all my success".[24]

Many of Cameron's portraits are significant because they are the only existing photograph of historical figures.

The bulk of Cameron's photographs fit into two categories: closely framed portraits and illustrative allegories based on religious and literary works. In the allegorical works in particular, her artistic influence was clearly Pre-Raphaelite, with far-away looks, limp poses, and soft lighting.[25]

Her images were unconventional in their intimacy and their use of blur created both through long exposures and by leaving the lens intentionally out of focus. This led some of her contemporaries to complain and even ridicule her work, but friends and family were supportive.[citation needed]


Cameron's sister ran an artistic salon at Little Holland House, which gave Cameron many famous subjects for her portraits, including Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, John Everett Millais, William Michael Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ellen Terry, and George Frederic Watts. Most of these portraits are cropped closely around the subject's face and are in soft focus. Often Cameron was a friend of these Victorian celebrities, and, knowing them well, tried to capture their personalities in her photographs.[citation needed]

Among Cameron's lesser-known models was Mary Emily ('May') Prinsep, wife of Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson, a British colonial administrator and the elder son of Alfred Tennyson. Cameron's portraits of May Prinsep, taken on the Isle of Wight, include both more conventional portraits and images of the sitter as allegorical subjects drawn from Romantic poetry.[26] Tennyson asked Cameron to photograph illustrations for his Idylls of the King. These photographs are designed to resemble oil paintings from the same time period, including rich details such as historical costumes and intricate draperies.[citation needed]


Julia Prinsep Jackson, later Julia Stephen, Cameron's niece, favourite subject, and the mother of Virginia Woolf

Cameron's niece Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson; 1846–1895) wrote the biography of Cameron that appeared in the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, 1886.[27] Julia Stephen was the mother of Virginia Woolf, who wrote a comic portrayal of the "Freshwater circle" in her only play Freshwater. Woolf, in collaboration with Roger Fry, edited a collection of Cameron's photographs that was published in 1926.[28]

It was not until 1948, however, that Cameron's photography became more widely known, when Helmut Gernsheim wrote a book on her work.[29]He later noted that although a great photographer, Cameron had "left no mark" on the aesthetic history of photography because her work was not appreciated by her fellow photographers and thus not imitated.[30]

Her standing has since changed; in 1975, Imogen Cunningham commented "I'd like to see portrait photography go right back to Julia Margaret Cameron. I don't think there's anyone better." Cunningham went on to say her own work had not been influenced by Cameron as she had not been aware of it when she was starting out.[30]

Alice Liddell as Alethea

In 2003, the J. Paul Getty Museum published a complete catalogue of Cameron's known and surviving photographs. One caption of a portrait of Alice Liddell (whom Cameron photographed as Alethea, Pomona, Ceres, and St. Agnes in 1872) claims that "Cameron's photographic portraits are considered among the finest in the early history of photography".[31]

In 2013, the Metropolitan Museum of Art curated an exhibition of Cameron's work, which garnered significant reviews.[32]

In 2015 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London drew on their extensive collection of her work for a 200th anniversary retrospective of Cameron's career that also travelled to Sydney, Australia. Another exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London in March 2018 placed her work in relationship to the work of her Victorian contemporaries, Lady Clementina Hawarden, Oscar Rejlander, and Lewis Carroll.[33]

Portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron[edit]

There are seven known portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron. Many are held by the National Portrait Gallery, London.


The following retrospective exhibitions have focused on Cameron's oeuvre.

Title Dates Institution Country
Mrs. Cameron's photographs from the life[34] 22 January 1974 – 10 March 1974 Stanford University Museum of Art United States
Whisper of the Muse[35] 10 September 1986 – 16 November 1986 Getty Villa United States
Whisper of the Muse at Loyola Marymount University[36] 12 September 1986 – 25 October 1986 Laband Gallery United States
Portrait Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron[36] 25 November 1987 – 14 February 1988 National Portrait Gallery United States
Julia Margaret Cameron: The Creative Process[36] 15 October 1996 – 5 January 1997 Getty Villa United States
4 February 1998 – 3 May 1998 Art Gallery of Ontario Canada
Julia Margaret Cameron: Nineteenth Century Photographic Genius[36] 6 February 2003 – 26 May 2003 National Portrait Gallery, London United Kingdom
5 June 2003 – 30 August 2003 National Media Museum United Kingdom
Julia Margaret Cameron, Photographer[37] 21 October 2003 – 11 January 2004 Getty Center United States
Julia Margaret Cameron[38] 19 August 2013 – 5 January 2014 Metropolitan Museum of Art United States
Julia Margaret Cameron[39] 15 August 2015 – 25 October 2015 Art Gallery of New South Wales Australia
Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy[40] 24 September 2015 – 28 March 2016 Science Museum, London United Kingdom
Julia Margaret Cameron[41] 28 November 2015 – 21 February 2016 Victoria and Albert Museum United Kingdom
Julia Margaret Cameron: A Woman who Breathed Life into Photographs[42] 2 July 2016 – 19 September 2016 Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum Japan

List of selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ Crompton, Sarah (6 May 2016). "She takes a good picture: six forgotten female pioneers of photography". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  2. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum. Julia Margaret Cameron. Archived 10 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 13 September 2008.
  3. ^ Ruggeri, Amanda (12 January 2016). "When mistakes make the art". BBC. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  4. ^ Nan Goldin (2016). Nan Goldin on Julia Margaret Cameron (Audio file). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Artist Project).
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Barlow, Helen (2017). "Cameron [née Pattle], Julia Margaret (1815–1879), photographer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Art Story Contributors; Baillie, Rebecca (7 August 2018). "Julia Margaret Cameron". The Art Story. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  7. ^ The Intersecting Realities and Fictions of Virginia Woolf and Colette – Helen Southworth – Google Boeken. Books.google.com. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Ford, Colin (2008). "Cameron, Julia Margaret, 1815–1879". In Hannavy, John (ed.). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. London, UK: Routledge. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Weiss, Marta. "Julia Margaret Cameron – an introduction". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  10. ^ a b c Lukitsh, Joanne. "Cameron [Pattle], Julia Margaret". Grove Art Online.
  11. ^ a b c d e Ford, Colin (2005). "Cameron, Julia Margaret". The Oxford Companion to the Photograph. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866271-6. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  12. ^ "NPG 5046; Julia Margaret Cameron - Portrait Extended". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Cox, Julian; Ford, Colin (2003). Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications. ISBN 0-89236-681-8.
  14. ^ Birch, Dinah BirchDinah (1 January 2009). "Cameron, Julia Margaret". In Dinah Birch (ed.) (eds.). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280687-1. Retrieved 28 April 2019.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  15. ^ a b Daniel, Malcolm. "Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879)". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 4 May 2019.
  16. ^ a b c "Julia Margaret Cameron". Britannica Academic. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Members of the Royal Photographic Society, 1853–1901". The Royal Photographic Society. 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  18. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron". International Center of Photography. 31 January 2018. Retrieved 3 May 2019.
  19. ^ a b Ford, Colin (2008). "Cameron, Julia Margaret, 1815–1879". In Hannavy, John (ed.). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. London, UK: Routledge. Retrieved 28 April 2019.}
  20. ^ AskOxford: The Cod and the Camera Quote is taken from her unpublished autobiography, "Annals of My Glass House."
  21. ^ "The Norman Album". | Charles | Saumarez | Smith |. 22 May 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  22. ^ "Famed photography album at risk of leaving the UK – GOV.UK". www.gov.uk. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  23. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron: Related Photographers". Victoria and Albert Museum. 2016. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  24. ^ Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. Third ed. New York: Abbeville Press Publishers, 2010. p. 52.
  25. ^ 'Christabel' Mary Prinsep images at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
  26. ^ Stephen, L. (1886). Dictionary of national biography: vol. VIII. Burton – Cantwell. London: Smith, Elder, & Co.
  27. ^ Woolf, V., & Fry, R. E. (1926). Victorian photographs of famous men & women. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
  28. ^ Gernsheim, H. (1948). Julia Margaret Cameron; her life and photographic work. Famous photographers. London: Fountain Press; distributed in the USA by Transatlantic Arts, New York.
  29. ^ a b Dialogue With Photography by Paul Hill & Thomas Cooper, Thames & Hudson 1979
  30. ^ "Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron of Alice Liddell: Getty Images #90762993". Getty Images. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  31. ^ Lane, Anthony, Names and Faces, the portraits of Julia Margaret Cameron, The New Yorker, 2 September 2013, pages 69–73.
  32. ^ "Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography 1 March – 20 May 2018" (Museum exhibition). National Portrait Gallery, London. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  33. ^ Mozley, Anita Ventura (1974). "Mrs. Cameron's photographs from the life" : [exhibition] 22 January-10 March 1974. Palo Alto, California: Department of Art, Stanford University. OCLC 33005764.
  34. ^ Cameron, Julia Margaret; Howard, Jeremy (1990). Whisper of the muse : the world of Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Colnaghi. ISBN 978-0-89236-088-8.
  35. ^ a b c d "The Whisper of the Muse / Portrait of G.F. Watts". The J. Paul Getty Museum. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  36. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron, Photographer". The J. Paul Getty Museum. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  37. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  38. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron". Art Gallery of New South Wales. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  39. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy". Science Museum. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  40. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  41. ^ "Julia Margaret Cameron: A Woman who Breathed Life into Photographs". Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum. Retrieved 25 March 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]