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Paul and Virginia

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Isle of Wight (photographed)

  • Date:

    1864 (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

  • Credit Line:

    Given by or Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 28 & 31 July 1865

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case COS, shelf PHO

Julia Margaret Cameron accepted and even embraced irregularities that other photographers would have rejected as technical flaws. In addition to her pioneering use of soft focus, she scratched into her negatives, printed from broken or damaged ones and occasionally used multiple negatives to form a single picture. Although criticised at the time as evidence of ‘slovenly’ technique, these traces of the artist’s hand in Cameron’s prints can now be appreciated for their modernity.

Cameron was not uncritical of her work and strove to improve her skills. She sought the opinion of her mentor, the artist G. F. Watts, though at his insistence she sent him imperfect prints for comment, reserving the more successful ones for potential sale. Cameron also sought advice from the Photographic Society and from Henry Cole, founding director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), on combatting the ‘cruel calamity’ of crackling that had ruined some of her ‘most precious negatives’.

This was one of several variations Cameron made illustrating a scene from Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint Pierre’s tragic romance Paul et Virginie (1787). The novel tells of the ill-fated love of two children (here played by Freddy Gould and Elizabeth Keown) living on the island of Mauritius. The image depicts a passage in which the two are caught in a storm.

Cameron was most satisfied with this version, and made multiple prints of it. Yet she still found fault with Paul’s feet, and scratched into the negative to make them appear slimmer. The writer Anne Thackeray Ritchie called Paul and Virginia ‘an exquisite little pair’.

Physical description

A photograph of two children (Freddy Gould and Elizabeth Keown) both draped in cloth standing together holding an open parasol

Place of Origin

Isle of Wight (photographed)


1864 (photographed)


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

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

Marks and inscriptions

"Paul and Virginia" in pen bottom centre verso of mount. Blindstamped: "SCIENCE & ART DEPARTMENT, NATIONAL LIBRARY" top centre verso of mount


Height: 260 mm image, Width: 205 mm image, Height: 380 mm mount, Width: 295 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, 'Paul and Virginia' (sitters Freddy Gould and Elizabeth Keown), albumen print, 1864

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. 23, p.122, ill.
Woolf, Virgina and Roger Fry. Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women. Expanded and revised edition of Woolf and Fry 1926, edited by Tristram Powell, Boston: David R. Godine, 1973, plate 23.
Ford, Colin. The Cameron Collection: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron Presented to Sir John Herschel. Wokingham, England: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1975, p.37.
Ovenden, Graham, ed. A Victorian Album: Julia Margaret Cameron and Her Circle. London: Secker and Warburg, 1975, plates 8 & 10.
Weaver, Mike. Whisper of the Muse: The Overstone album and other photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. Malibu, California: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986, p. 70.
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. 54.
Weaver, Mike. Julia Margaret Cameron 1815 - 1879. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984, p. 46.
Cox, Julian. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum. In Focus, edited by Weston Naef. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996, p. 19.
Hopkinson, Amanda. Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Virago Press, 1986, p. 121.
Lukitsh, Joanne. Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Phaidon Press, 2001, p. 33.
From Infancy to the Green Years[in Russian] Moscow: State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, 2010. ISBN: 978-5-901124-73-4
Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 131.


Photographic paper


Albumen process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Grief; Romantic love; Parasol; Child


Photographs; Romance


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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