Alfred Tennyson

Photograph
May 1865 (Photographed)
Alfred Tennyson thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Julia Margaret Cameron’s first photographic subjects were family and friends. These early portraits reveal how she experimented with dramatic lighting and close-up compositions, features that would become her signature style.

In May 1865 Cameron used her sister’s London home, Little Holland House, as her photographic headquarters. Her sister Sara Prinsep, together with her husband Thoby, had established a cultural salon there, centred around the artist George Frederic Watts. Cameron photographed numerous members of their circle on the lawn. These included artists, writers, collectors and Henry Cole, the director of the South Kensington Museum.

When Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes, such as Tennyson, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man’. Another motive was to earn money from prints, since her family’s finances were precarious. Within her first year as a photographer she began exhibiting and selling through the London gallery Colnaghi’s. She used autographs to increase the value of some portraits.

Tennyson dubbed this portrait the ‘Dirty Monk’. He said he preferred it to any other photograph of himself, except one by Mayall, a well-established studio photographer. Cameron was insulted by the comparison and likened it to comparing an ‘ideal heroic bust’ to a waxwork from Madame Tussaud’s.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional TitleThe Dirty Monk (popular title)
Materials and Techniques
albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Alfred Tennyson' ('The Dirty Monk'), albumen print, May 1865
Physical Description
A photograph of a bearded man (Alfred Tennyson) shown in 3/4 view, in a dark cloak, holding a book in his left hand.
Dimensions
  • Image height: 25.2cm
  • Image width: 20.1cm
Style
Gallery Label
  • Julia Margaret Cameron Victoria and Albert Museum Alfred Tennyson 1865 Tennyson dubbed this portrait the ‘Dirty Monk’. He said he preferred it to any other photograph of himself, except one by Mayall, a well-established studio photographer. Cameron was insulted by the comparison and likened it to comparing an ‘ideal heroic bust’ to a waxwork from Madame Tussaud’s. Given by Window & Grove, 1963 V&A: 1143-1963(28 November 2015 - 21 February 2016)
  • Julia Margaret Cameron: A Bicentenary Exhibition Alfred Tennyson 1865 Tennyson dubbed this portrait the ‘Dirty Monk’. He said he preferred it to any other photograph of himself except one by Mayall, a well-established studio photographer. Cameron called the comparison ‘too comical’ and likened it to comparing a waxwork from Madame Tussaud’s with an ‘ideal heroic bust’ by the sculptor Thomas Woolner. Given by Window & Grove, 1963 Museum no. 1143-1963 (18 November 2014 – 25 September 2016)
Credit line
Given by Window & Grove, 1963
Object history
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.

Subjects depicted
Association
Literary Reference'Illustrations to Tennyson's Idylls of the King, and other poems, by Julia Margaret Cameron. Publsihed by Henry S. King & Col, 1875.
Summary
Julia Margaret Cameron’s first photographic subjects were family and friends. These early portraits reveal how she experimented with dramatic lighting and close-up compositions, features that would become her signature style.



In May 1865 Cameron used her sister’s London home, Little Holland House, as her photographic headquarters. Her sister Sara Prinsep, together with her husband Thoby, had established a cultural salon there, centred around the artist George Frederic Watts. Cameron photographed numerous members of their circle on the lawn. These included artists, writers, collectors and Henry Cole, the director of the South Kensington Museum.



When Cameron photographed her intellectual heroes, such as Tennyson, her aim was to record ‘the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man’. Another motive was to earn money from prints, since her family’s finances were precarious. Within her first year as a photographer she began exhibiting and selling through the London gallery Colnaghi’s. She used autographs to increase the value of some portraits.



Tennyson dubbed this portrait the ‘Dirty Monk’. He said he preferred it to any other photograph of himself, except one by Mayall, a well-established studio photographer. Cameron was insulted by the comparison and likened it to comparing an ‘ideal heroic bust’ to a waxwork from Madame Tussaud’s.
Associated Object
35-1939 (Version)
Bibliographic References
  • Cox, Julian and Colin Ford, with contributions by Joanne Lukitsh and Philippa Wright. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames & Hudson, in association with The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, 2003. ISBN: 0-500-54265-1Cat. no. 796, p. 354
  • Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 67.
Collection
Accession Number
1143-1963

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdDecember 15, 1999
Record URL