Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C , Case MB2H, Shelf DR35

The Astronomer

Photograph
April 1867 (photographed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.’


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional TitleJohn Frederick William Herschel (generic title)
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print from wet collodion on glass negative
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'The Astronomer' (sitter John Frederick William Herschel), albumen print, 1867
Physical Description
A photograph of a man(John Frederick William Herschel) from the chest up with white hair and a white collar. His eyes are closed and his mouth is in a downward pose.
Dimensions
  • Mount height: 610mm
  • Mount width: 507mm
Style
Credit line
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A, acquired with the generous assistance of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund.
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, collected later from various sources and letters from Cameron to Sir Henry Cole (1808–82), the Museum’s founding director and an early supporter of photography.



This photograph is part of the Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A which also includes fragments of Cameron's original autobiographical manuscript for Annals of My Glass House.

Subjects depicted
Summary
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.’

Associated Object
PROV.1115-2017 (RPS Group record)
Bibliographic Reference
Julian Cox and Colin Ford etal, Julia Margaret Cameron, The Complete Photographs, Thames and Hudson, 2003, cat. no 677, p. 324
Other Numbers
  • XRP112 - RPS collection - V&A identifier
  • 2003-5001/2/22610 - Science Museum Group accession number
  • 2068 - Royal Photographic Society number
Collection
Accession Number
RPS.1234-2017

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record createdFebruary 26, 2018
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