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Photograph - John Frederick William Herschel
  • John Frederick William Herschel
    Cameron, Julia Margaret, born 1815 - died 1879
  • Enlarge image

John Frederick William Herschel

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Hawkhurst (photographed)

  • Date:

    April 1867 (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 Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913

  • Museum number:

    930-1913

  • Gallery location:

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

When Julia Margaret 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.

In March 1868 Cameron used two rooms at the South Kensington Museum as a portrait studio. Her letter of thanks makes clear her commercial aspirations, mentioning photographs she had sold and asking for help securing more sitters, including, she wrote hopefully, any ‘Royal sitters you may obtain for me’.

Sir John Herschel was an eminent scientist who made important contributions to astronomy and photography. Cameron wrote of this sitting, ‘When I have such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.’

Physical description

A photograph of an elderly man (Sir John Herschel) from the shoulders up, wearing a cap.

Place of Origin

Hawkhurst (photographed)

Date

April 1867 (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 at his own residence Collingwood April 1867'
on mount, lower left under image; inscribed; brown ink

'Julia Margaret Cameron'
Signature; on mount, lower right, under image.; signing; brown ink

'John Frederick William Herschel'
on mount, lower centre; inscribed; brown ink; Herschel, John Frederick William

'930-1913.'
on mount, lower right; inscribed; brown ink

'x.311 Photographs by Mrs. Julia Margaret Cameron c.1864-75./Sir John Herschel. 1867./ 930-1913'
Museum labels; pasting

Dimensions

Height: 34.3 cm image, Width: 26.6 cm image, Height: 42.0 cm mount, Width: 30.4 cm 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, 'John Frederick William Herschel', albumen print, 1867

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

Julian Cox and Colin Ford etal, Julia Margaret Cameron, The Complete Photographs, Thames and Hudson, 2003, cat. no 674, p. 325.
Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 107.

Labels and date

Julia Margaret Cameron
Victoria and Albert Museum

John Frederick William Herschel

1867

Sir John Herschel was an eminent scientist who made important contributions to astronomy and photography. Cameron wrote of this sitting, ‘When I have such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavoured to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.’

Given by Alan S. Cole, 1913
V&A: 930-1913 [28 November 2015 - 21 February 2016]
Julia Margaret Cameron experimented boldly with focus and scale, flaunting the conventions of conventional studio portraiture to create the dramatic, close-up portraits for which she is best known. Here she depicts her mentor, the astronomer J. F. W. Herschel, who probably introduced her to photography. Herschel made major contributions to photographic science. He invented 'hypo', the chemical that fixes photographs, and coined the terms 'positive', 'negative' and even the word 'photography' itself. [19/08/2004]

Materials

Photographic paper

Techniques

Albumen process

Subjects depicted

Portraits; Astronomers

Categories

Photographs; Portraits; Science

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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