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The return "after three days"

  • 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:

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

  • Museum number:

    44950

  • Gallery location:

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

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 Christ. Her housemaid Mary Hillier posed as the Virgin Mary so often she became known locally as ‘Mary Madonna’.

This is perhaps the closest Cameron ever came to making a still-life. Flowers fill half the frame and are in sharp focus. Although the title refers to a biblical episode featuring the 12-year-old Jesus and his parents, Cameron shows a younger child accompanied by two women, with a third woman just visible at the right edge. Cameron’s interpretations were often far from literal.

Physical description

A photograph of three women (Mary Kellaway, Mary Hillier and Mary Ryan) and a child (Freddy Gould) surrounding an arrangement of flowers.

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

"Women (two), and child; study of, heads of" in ink bottom left verso of mount. "The Return after #Three Days" in ink bottom centre verso of mount.

Dimensions

Height: 275 mm image, Width: 215 mm image, Height: 335 mm mount, Width: 265 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, 'The return "after three days"' (sitters Mary Kellaway, Mary Hillier, Freddy Gould and Mary Ryan), 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. 148, p.168, ill.
Weaver, Mike. Julia Margaret Cameron 1815 - 1879. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984, p. 34.
Hopkinson, Amanda. Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Virago Press, 1986, p. 25.
Lukitsh, Joanne. Cameron: Her Work and Career. Rochester, N.Y.: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1986, p.26.
Hamilton, Violet. Annals of My Glass Gouse: Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996, pl. 9.
Wolf, Sylvia (et al). Julia Margaret Cameron's Women. London: The Institute of Chicago and London: Yale University Press, 1998. Repro., plate 45.
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. 69.
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.73.

Labels and date

Julia Margaret Cameron
Victoria and Albert Museum

The Return “After Three Days”

1865

This is perhaps the closest Cameron ever came to making a still-life. Flowers fill half the frame and are in sharp focus. Although the title refers to a biblical episode featuring the 12-year-old Jesus and his parents, Cameron shows a younger child accompanied by two women, with a third woman just visible at the right edge. Cameron’s interpretations were often far from literal.

Given by or purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron,
July 1865
V&A: 44950 [28 November 2014 – 21 February 2016]

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Albumen process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Childhood of Jesus Christ; Dress-makers; Woman; Religion (concept); Child; Christianity; Servants

Categories

Photographs; Christianity; Religion; Biblical Imagery

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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