St. Agnes thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F , Case X, Shelf 311, Box G

St. Agnes

Photograph
1864 (photographed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This image may have been inspired by poems by Alfred Tennyson and John Keats based on the legend that virgins dream of their future husbands on St Agnes Eve (20 January). To suggest the night, Julia Margaret Cameron printed the photograph dark and added a moon by hand. The sitter is Mary Hillier, Cameron’s housemaid and one of her ‘most beautiful and constant’ models.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'St. Agnes' (sitter Mary Hillier), albumen print, 1864
Physical Description
Photograph of a woman (Mary Hillier) with her head draped in cloth with her hands in prayer.
Dimensions
  • Height: 26.7cm
  • Width: 21.3cm
Style
Credit line
Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 17 June 1865
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
Summary
This image may have been inspired by poems by Alfred Tennyson and John Keats based on the legend that virgins dream of their future husbands on St Agnes Eve (20 January). To suggest the night, Julia Margaret Cameron printed the photograph dark and added a moon by hand. The sitter is Mary Hillier, Cameron’s housemaid and one of her ‘most beautiful and constant’ models.
Associated Object
44:771 (version)
Bibliographic References
  • Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 148.
  • Cox, Julian and Colin Ford. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003. ISBN: 0-500-54265-1Cat. no. 243, p. 204
Collection
Accession Number
44751

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record createdJanuary 29, 2004
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