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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 A

Circe

Photograph
1865 (photographed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Julia Margaret Cameron looked to painting and sculpture as inspiration for her allegorical and narrative subjects. Some works are photographic interpretations of specific paintings by artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo. Others aspired more generally to create ‘Pictorial Effect’.

Cameron's harshest critics attacked her for using the supposedly truthful medium of photography to depict imaginary subject matter. Some suggested that at best her photographs could serve as studies for painters. The South Kensington Museum mainly acquired 'Madonnas' and 'Fancy Subjects', and exhibited them as pictures in their own right.

Circe is an enchantress from ancient Greek mythology who appears in Homer’s Odyssey. The grapes on her head symbolise the magical liquor she uses to transform Odysseus’ sailors into swine to prevent Odysseus from leaving her island. Cameron inscribed the mount of this photograph with a quotation from Milton: ‘Who knows not Circe / daughter of the Sun’.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional Title"Who knows not Circe Daughter of the Sun"' (assigned by artist)
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Circe' (sitter Kate Keown), albumen print, 1865
Physical Description
Photograph of a child (Kate Keown) with grapes and leaves arranged upon her head, in close-up and slightly out of focus, with the subject looking straight into the camera against a dark background.
Dimensions
  • Image height: 244mm
  • Image width: 202mm
  • Mount height: 34cm
  • Mount width: 26.7cm
Dimensions taken from Brian Coe & Mark Haworth-Booth, A Guide to Early Photographic Printing Processes. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Hurtwood Press, 1983.
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
  • From Life Julia Margaret Cameron / Circe / 'Who knows not Circe / daughter of the sun' (recto mount in ink at bottom right corner by JMC)
  • Circe, study for head of. / (Girl, Portrait of) (Recto on mount in ink by unknown hand at bottom left corner)
  • Studies for painting (Recto mount in ink by unknown hand at upper left corner)
  • X311 45140 Photographs by Mrs. Julia Margaret Cameron, c.1864-75. "Circe". (Museum pasted label at upper right)
  • 'REGISTERED PHOTOGRAPH / SOLD BY / MESSrs/ COLNAGHI / 14 PALL MALL EAST / LONDON' (Colnaghi blind stamp, lower centre on sheet)
Gallery Label
  • Julia Margaret Cameron Victoria and Albert Museum Circe 1865 Circe is an enchantress from ancient Greek mythology who appears in Homer’s Odyssey. The grapes on her head symbolise the magical liquor she uses to transform Odysseus’ sailors into swine to prevent Odysseus from leaving her island. Cameron inscribed the mount of this photograph with a quotation from Milton: ‘Who knows not Circe / daughter of the Sun’. Given by or purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, September 1865 V&A: 45140(28 November 2015 - 21 February 2016)
  • Gallery 100, ‘History of photography’, 2011-2012, label text : Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) ‘Circe’ About 1865 Circe is an enchantress from Ancient Greek mythology who appears in Homer’s Odyssey. The grapes on her head are symbolic of the magical liquor she uses to transform Odysseus’ sailors into swine to prevent Odysseus from leaving her island. Cameron inscribed the mount of this photograph with a quotation from Milton: ‘who knows not Circe/ daughter of the Sun’. Albumen print Given by Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 1865 Museum no. 45.140 (07 03 2014)
Credit line
Given by or Purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, 27 September 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
Literary ReferenceIn Homer's Odyssey the magician Circe attempts to prevent Odysseus from leaving the island by giving his sailors a magical liquor that transform them into swine.
Summary
Julia Margaret Cameron looked to painting and sculpture as inspiration for her allegorical and narrative subjects. Some works are photographic interpretations of specific paintings by artists such as Raphael and Michelangelo. Others aspired more generally to create ‘Pictorial Effect’.



Cameron's harshest critics attacked her for using the supposedly truthful medium of photography to depict imaginary subject matter. Some suggested that at best her photographs could serve as studies for painters. The South Kensington Museum mainly acquired 'Madonnas' and 'Fancy Subjects', and exhibited them as pictures in their own right.



Circe is an enchantress from ancient Greek mythology who appears in Homer’s Odyssey. The grapes on her head symbolise the magical liquor she uses to transform Odysseus’ sailors into swine to prevent Odysseus from leaving her island. Cameron inscribed the mount of this photograph with a quotation from Milton: ‘Who knows not Circe / daughter of the Sun’.
Bibliographic References
  • Julian Cox and Colin Ford, et al. Julia Margaret Cameron: the complete photographs. London : Thames and Hudson, 2003. Cat. no. 983, , p. 410.
  • Coe, Brian & Haworth-Booth, Mark. A Guide to Early Photographic Printing Processes. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum in association with Hurtwood Press, 1983.
  • Kingsley, Hope with contributions by Riopelle, Christopher Seduced by art : photography past and present London: National Gallery, 2012
  • Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 87.
Collection
Accession Number
45140

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record createdNovember 18, 2006
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