The Dream 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 , Shelf X, Box 311Q

The Dream

Photograph
April 1869 (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 pioneering the 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 G.F. Watts, but at his insistence sent him imperfect prints for comment, reserving the more successful ones for potential sale. Cameron also complained to Henry Cole about the ‘cruel calamity’ of cracks that had ruined some of her ‘most precious negatives’.

Milton’s poem ‘On his Deceased Wife’ tells of a fleeting vision of his beloved returning to life in a dream. On the mount of this photograph, Cameron included G.F. Watts’ assessment: ‘quite divine’. Cameron was particularly distraught by the crackling that befell this negative. She seemed not to be bothered, however, by the two smudged fingerprints in the lower right, which form an inadvertent signature.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Brief Description
Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 'The Dream' (sitter Mary Hillier), albumen print, 1869
Physical Description
A photograph of a woman (Mary Hillier) seated, in profile. Her long hair is tied back by a kerchief.
Dimensions
  • Image height: 30.2cm
  • Image width: 24.3cm
  • Mount height: 36.5cm
  • Mount width: 28.2cm
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
  • 'From Life, Registered Photograph Freshwater April 1869. Copyright Julia Margaret Cameron' (on mount, under print, running left to right; inscribed; brown ink)
  • 'The Dream.' (on mount, lower centre; inscribed; brown ink)
  • 'quite divine/G.F. Watts.' (on mount, lower centre; lithographed)
Gallery Label
Julia Margaret Cameron Victoria and Albert Museum The Dream 1869 Milton’s poem ‘On his Deceased Wife’ tells of a fleeting vision of his beloved returning to life in a dream. On the mount of this photograph, Cameron included G.F. Watts’ assessment: ‘quite divine’. Cameron was particularly distraught by the crackling that befell this negative. She seemed not to be bothered, however, by the two smudged fingerprints in the lower right, which form an inadvertent signature. Given by Alan S. Cole, 1913 V&A: 937-1913(28 November 2015 - 21 February 2016)
Credit line
Given by Alan S. Cole, 19 April 1913
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 ReferenceJohn Milton, 'On His Deceased Wife' (about 1658)
Summary
Julia Margaret Cameron accepted and even embraced irregularities that other photographers would have rejected as technical flaws. In addition to pioneering the 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 G.F. Watts, but at his insistence sent him imperfect prints for comment, reserving the more successful ones for potential sale. Cameron also complained to Henry Cole about the ‘cruel calamity’ of cracks that had ruined some of her ‘most precious negatives’.



Milton’s poem ‘On his Deceased Wife’ tells of a fleeting vision of his beloved returning to life in a dream. On the mount of this photograph, Cameron included G.F. Watts’ assessment: ‘quite divine’. Cameron was particularly distraught by the crackling that befell this negative. She seemed not to be bothered, however, by the two smudged fingerprints in the lower right, which form an inadvertent signature.
Bibliographic References
  • Cox, Julian and Colin Ford, with contributions by Joanne Lukitsh and Philippa Wright. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. London: Thames & Hudson, in association with The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and The National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford, 2003. ISBN: 0-500-54265-1Cat. no. 258, p. 208
  • Weiss, Marta. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: MACK, 2015, p. 143.
Collection
Accession Number
937-1913

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record createdJanuary 9, 2003
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