One of the greatest portraitists in the history of photography, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) blended an unorthodox technique, a deeply spiritual sensibility, and a Pre-Raphaelite–inflected aesthetic to create a gallery of vivid portraits and a mirror of the Victorian soul. Julia Margaret Cameron, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning August 19, 2013, is the first New York City museum exhibition devoted to Cameron’s work in nearly a generation and the first ever at the Met. The showing of 35 works is drawn entirely from the Metropolitan’s rich collection, including major works from the Rubel Collection acquired in 1997 and the Gilman Collection acquired in 2005.
The exhibition is made possible by The Hite Foundation, in memory of Sybil Hite.
When she received her first camera in December 1863 as a Christmas gift from her daughter and son-in-law, Cameron was 48, a mother of six, and a deeply religious, well-read, somewhat eccentric friend of many notable Victorian artists, poets, and thinkers. “From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour,” she wrote, “and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour.” Condemned by some contemporaries for sloppy craftsmanship, she purposely avoided the perfect resolution and minute detail that glass negatives permitted, opting instead for carefully directed light, soft focus, and long exposures that allowed the sitters’ slight movement to register in her pictures, instilling them with a sense of breath and life.
The exhibition features masterpieces from each of her three major bodies of work: portraits of men “great thro’ genius” including the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, scientist Sir John Herschel, and philosopher Thomas Carlyle; women “great thro’ love” including relatives, neighbors, and household staff, often titled as literary, historical, or biblical subjects; and staged groupings such as her illustrations for Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, her Annunciation in the style of Perugino, or her depiction of King Lear and his daughters.
Julia Margaret Cameron is organized by Malcolm Daniel, Senior Curator in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.