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Blessing and Blessed

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Isle of Wight (photographed)

  • Date:

    1865 (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cameron, Julia Margaret, born 1815 - died 1879 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 17 June 1865.

  • Museum number:

    44769

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 311, box P

Like many of her contemporaries, Julia Margaret Cameron was a devout Christian and the motif of the Madonna and Child held particular significance for her as a mother of six. In aspiring to make ‘High Art’, Cameron aimed to make photographs that could be uplifting and morally instructive.

The South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) purchased many of Cameron's ‘Madonna Groups’ depicting the Virgin Mary and the infant Christ. Her housemaid Mary Hillier posed as the Virgin Mary so often she became known locally as ‘Mary Madonna’.

Physical description

A photograph of a woman (Mary Hillier) with draped head and lips pressed against the forehead of a bare-chested child (Freddy Gould) cradled in her arms.

Place of Origin

Isle of Wight (photographed)

Date

1865 (photographed)

Artist/maker

Cameron, Julia Margaret, born 1815 - died 1879 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed "Blessing and Blessed" in pen bottom center of the back of mount. Blind stamped: "SCIENCE & ART DEPARTMENT, NATIONAL LIBRARY" top center back of mount.

Dimensions

Height: 255 mm image, Width: 210 mm image, Height: 390 mm mount, Width: 210 mm mount, Height: 580 mm mount, Width: 380 mm mount

Object history note

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79) was one of the most important and innovative photographers of the 19th century. Her photographs were rule-breaking: purposely out of focus, and often including scratches, smudges and other traces of the artist’s process. Best known for her powerful portraits, she also posed her sitters – friends, family and servants – as characters from biblical, historical or allegorical stories.

Born in Calcutta on 11 June 1815, the fourth of seven sisters, her father was an East India Company official and her mother descended from French aristocracy. Educated mainly in France, Cameron returned to India in 1834.

In 1842, the British astronomer Sir John Herschel (1792 – 1871) introduced Cameron to photography, sending her examples of the new invention. They had met in 1836 while Cameron was convalescing from an illness in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. He remained a life-long friend and correspondent on technical photographic matters. That same year she met Charles Hay Cameron (1795–1880), 20 years her senior, a reformer of Indian law and education. They married in Calcutta in 1838 and she became a prominent hostess in colonial society. A decade later, the Camerons moved to England. By then they had four children; two more were born in England. Several of Cameron’s sisters were already living there, and had established literary, artistic and social connections. The Camerons eventually settled in Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight.
At the age of 48 Cameron received a camera as a gift from her daughter and son-in-law. It was accompanied by the words, ‘It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.’ Cameron had compiled albums and even printed photographs before, but her work as a photographer now began in earnest.

The Camerons lived at Freshwater until 1875, when they moved to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where Charles Cameron had purchased coffee and rubber plantations, managed under difficult agricultural and financial conditions by three of their sons. Cameron continued her photographic practice at her new home yet her output decreased significantly and only a small body of photographs from this time remains. After moving to Ceylon the Camerons made only one more visit to England in May 1878. Julia Margaret Cameron died after a brief illness in Ceylon in 1879.

Cameron’s relationship with the Victoria and Albert Museum dates to the earliest years of her photographic career. The first museum exhibition of Cameron's work was held in 1865 at the South Kensington Museum, London (now the V&A). The South Kensington Museum was not only the sole museum to exhibit Cameron’s work in her lifetime, but also the institution that collected her photographs most extensively in her day. In 1868 the Museum gave Cameron the use of two rooms as a portrait studio, perhaps qualifying her as its first artist-in-residence. Today the V&A’s Cameron collection includes photographs acquired directly from the artist, others collected later from various sources, and five letters from Cameron to Sir Henry Cole (1808–82), the Museum’s founding director and an early supporter of photography.

Descriptive line

Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Blessings and Blessed' (sitters Mary Hillier and Freddy Gould), albumen print, 1865

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Ford, Colin and Cox, Julian. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames and Hudson, 2003. Cat. no. 56, p.144, ill.
Gernsheim, Helmut. Julia Margaret Cameron: Her Life and Photographic Work. London: Fountain Press, 1948, plate 2.
Weaver, Mike. Whisper of the Muse: The Overstone album and other photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. Malibu, California: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986, p. 78.
Ovenden, Graham, ed. A Victorian Album: Julia Margaret Cameron and Her Circle. London: Secker and Warburg, 1975, plate 17.
Hopkinson, Amanda. Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Virago Press, 1986, p. 24.
Mulligan, Therese, et al. For My Best Beloved Sister Mia: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Art Museum, 1994, p. 42.
Gernsheim, Helmut. Julia Margaret Cameron: Her Life and Photographic Work. Millerton, N.Y.: Aperture, 1975, p. 132.
Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 150.

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Albumen process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Nativity; Child; Woman; Religion (concept); Madonna; Christianity; Servants

Categories

Religion; Christianity; Photographs; Biblical Imagery

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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