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Photograph - 'For I'm to be Queen of the May, Mother'
  • 'For I'm to be Queen of the May, Mother'
    Cameron, Julia Margaret, born 1815 - died 1879
  • Enlarge image

'For I'm to be Queen of the May, Mother'

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    England (photographed)

  • Date:

    May 1, 1875 (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 Mrs Ida S. Perrin, 1939

  • Museum number:

    36-1939

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 312

In 1874, Alfred Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, invited Julia Margaret Cameron to make photographic illustrations to his Idylls of the King. This was a series of narrative poems based on the legends of King Arthur. After her large photographs were published as small, wood-cut copies, Cameron decided to produce an edition illustrated by original photographic prints. She accompanied these with extracts from the poems written in her own hand and printed in facsimile. She claimed to have made as many as 245 exposures toarrive at the 25 she finally published in two volumes.

In this illustration of ‘The May Queen’, the poem’s protagonist holds the wreath of flowers with which she will be crowned. Her loose hair, luminous skin and pale dress befit the role of a maiden chosen for her beauty.

Physical description

A photograph of a seated woman (Emily Peacock) in wide-brimmed hat clutching a flower wreath to her chest with left hand

Place of Origin

England (photographed)

Date

May 1, 1875 (photographed)

Artist/maker

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

Materials and Techniques

Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative

Marks and inscriptions

"From Life Registered Photograph Copy Right" in ink lower left verso of mount. "Julia Margaret Cameron" in ink lower right verso of mount. Oval blindstamp: "VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM LIBRARY" top centre verso of mount.

Dimensions

Height: 340 mm image, Width: 255 mm image, Height: 430 mm mount, Width: 350 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 May Queen' (sitter Emily Peacok), albumen print, 1875

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. 1176, p.477, ill.
Gernsheim, Helmut. Julia Margaret Cameron: Her Life and Photographic Work. Millerton, N.Y.: Aperture, 1975, p. 95.
Lukitsh, Joanne. Cameron: Her Work and Career. Rochester, N.Y.: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1986, p.69.
Weaver, Mike. Julia Margaret Cameron 1815 - 1879. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984, p. 57.
Wolf, Sylvia (et al). Julia Margaret Cameron's Women. London: The Institute of Chicago and London: Yale University Press, 1998, pl. 14
Weaver, Mike. Whisper of the Muse: The Overstone album and other photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. Malibu, California: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986, p. 49.
Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 121.

Labels and date

Julia Margaret Cameron
Victoria and Albert Museum

The May Queen
From Idylls of the King and Other Poems, Volume II

1875

In this illustration of ‘The May Queen’, the poem’s protagonist holds the wreath of flowers with which she will be crowned. Her loose hair, luminous skin and pale dress befit the role of a maiden chosen for her beauty.

Given by Mrs Ida S. Perrin, 1939
V&A: 36, 36:1-1939 [18 November 2014 – 25 September 2016]

Production Note

Originally part of a bound folio volume containing 13 photographs by Cameron (one of two albums of illustrations to Tennyson's 'Idylls of the King and other Poems' published by Henry S. King & Co., 1874-75). This photograph is from volume II. Each photograph is mounted on bluish mounts with gilt borders.

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Albumen process; Photography

Subjects depicted

Woman

Categories

Photographs; Allegory

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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