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 DR33 or DR2

The Whisper of the Muse

Photograph
April 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.

Cameron considered her close friend, the painter and sculptor G. F. Watts, to be her chief artistic advisor. She wrote of this period, ‘Mr. Watts gave me such encouragement that I felt as if I had wings to fly with.’ Here she transforms him into a musician, perhaps to symbolise the arts in general, rather than showing him specifically as a painter. Kate Keown, the girl on the right, whispers inspiration.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'Whisper of the Muse' (sitters Elizabeth Keown, George Frederic Watts, Kate Keown), albumen print, 1865
Physical Description
A photograph of a bearded man (George Frederic Watts) with violin surrounded by two young children (the sisters Elizabeth and Alice Keown) against a leaf-covered background.
Dimensions
  • Mount height: 608mm
  • Mount width: 505mm
Content description
Titled after a painting by G.F. Watts, 'The First Whisper of Love' (1860-65), in which Cupid casts a spell over Apollo by whspering amourous words into his ear.



Reference from Cox, Julian and Ford, Colin. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames and Hudson, 2003, p. 527.



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.

Production
Title and date assigned by Cox and Ford
Subjects depicted
Association
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.



Cameron considered her close friend, the painter and sculptor G. F. Watts, to be her chief artistic advisor. She wrote of this period, ‘Mr. Watts gave me such encouragement that I felt as if I had wings to fly with.’ Here she transforms him into a musician, perhaps to symbolise the arts in general, rather than showing him specifically as a painter. Kate Keown, the girl on the right, whispers inspiration.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • Ford, Colin and Cox, Julian. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames and Hudson, 2003. Cat. no. 1087, p.448, ill.
  • Weaver, Mike. Julia Margaret Cameron 1815 - 1879. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984, p. 96.
  • Hopkinson, Amanda. Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Virago Press, 1986, p. 133.
  • Lukitsh, Joanne. Cameron: Her Work and Career. Rochester, N.Y.: International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, 1986, p.22.
  • Cox, Julian. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum. In Focus, edited by Weston Naef. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996, p. 118.
  • Lukitsh, Joanne. Julia Margaret Cameron. London: Phaidon Press, 2001, p. 45.
  • Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 75.
Other Numbers
  • XRP114A - RPS collection - V&A identifier
  • 2003-5001/2/24956 - Science Museum Group accession number
  • 2025 - Royal Photographic Society number
Collection
Accession Number
RPS.1262:1-2017

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record createdFebruary 26, 2018
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