Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F , Shelf X, Box 311E

The Double Star

Photograph
April 1864 (photographed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Julia Margaret Cameron accepted and even embraced irregularities that other photographers would have rejected as technical flaws. In addition to her pioneering use of soft focus, she scratched into her negatives, printed from broken or damaged ones and occasionally used multiple negatives to form a single picture. Although criticised at the time as evidence of ‘slovenly’ technique, these traces of the artist’s hand in Cameron’s prints can now be appreciated for their modernity.

Cameron was not uncritical of her work and strove to improve her skills. She sought the opinion of her mentor, the painter G. F. Watts, though at his insistence she sent him imperfect prints for comment, reserving the more successful ones for potential sale. Cameron also sought advice from the Photographic Society and from Henry Cole, the founding director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) on combatting the ‘cruel calamity’ of crackling that had ruined some of her ‘most precious negatives’.

The streaks, swirls and bubbles produced by the unevenly coated negative give the print a watery effect and the two embracing sisters appear to be floating. The title might refer to Sir John Herschel’s astronomical research on double stars, as well as to the title of a hymn by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'The Double Star' (sitters Alice Keown, Elizabeth Keown), albumen print, 1864
Physical Description
Portrait of two bare-chested children kissing (Alice and Elizabeth Keown).
Dimensions
  • Image height: 25.3cm
  • Image width: 20cm
  • Mount height: 33.5cm
  • Mount width: 26.7cm
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
  • Registered Photograph Julia Margaret Cameron (Recto in ink by JMC)
  • The double Star (Recto in ink by JMC at bottom centre)
  • Children (two), study of. (Recto in ink by unknown hand at bottom right corner)
  • Studies for painting (Recto in ink by unknown hand at upper left corner)
  • X 311 45158 Photographs by Mrs. Julia Margaret Cameron, c.1864-75. "The double star." (Museum label pasted to mount)
Gallery Label
Julia Margaret Cameron Victoria and Albert Museum The Double Star 1864 The streaks, swirls and bubbles produced by the unevenly coated negative give the print a watery effect and the two embracing sisters appear to be floating. The title might refer to Sir John Herschel’s astronomical research on double stars, as well as to Christ and John the Baptist. Given by or purchased from Julia Margaret Cameron, September 1865 V&A: 45158(28 November 2015 – 21 February 2016)
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 Reference'The Double Star' is the title of a short religious poem by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889).
Summary
Julia Margaret Cameron accepted and even embraced irregularities that other photographers would have rejected as technical flaws. In addition to her pioneering use of soft focus, she scratched into her negatives, printed from broken or damaged ones and occasionally used multiple negatives to form a single picture. Although criticised at the time as evidence of ‘slovenly’ technique, these traces of the artist’s hand in Cameron’s prints can now be appreciated for their modernity.



Cameron was not uncritical of her work and strove to improve her skills. She sought the opinion of her mentor, the painter G. F. Watts, though at his insistence she sent him imperfect prints for comment, reserving the more successful ones for potential sale. Cameron also sought advice from the Photographic Society and from Henry Cole, the founding director of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) on combatting the ‘cruel calamity’ of crackling that had ruined some of her ‘most precious negatives’.



The streaks, swirls and bubbles produced by the unevenly coated negative give the print a watery effect and the two embracing sisters appear to be floating. The title might refer to Sir John Herschel’s astronomical research on double stars, as well as to the title of a hymn by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
Bibliographic References
  • Julian Cox and Colin Ford, et al. Julia Margaret Cameron: the complete photographs. London : Thames and Hudson, 2003. Cat. no. 860, p. 380.
  • Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 127.
Collection
Accession Number
45158

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record createdNovember 22, 2006
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