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Tennyson, Photography and Julia Margaret Cameron

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Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was a pioneer photographer in the 19th century.  She met the Alfred and Emily Tennyson in 1850 and became their neighbour on the Isle of Wight in 1863.  The following year she was given a camera by her daughter.  She set to work, using family friends, neighbours and servants -and occasionally unsuspecting passers-by- as subjects for her images with the help of a very lively dressing-up box.  By 1865, she had an agent, Colnaghi’s the print dealers, and was selling her work.

The Tennyson Research Centre holds two hundred Cameron photographs, which can all be seen by searching lincstothepast.  They can be divided into three overlapping subjects described below with some examples above:

Studies of individuals: 

Cameron’s Men (and Women) Alfred Tennyson, Charles Darwin and Robert Browning all sat for Cameron with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Most of the prints of the women represented in the collection are given a title other than their name:  they either personify a virtue or dress up as a character.  This is the case occasionally with the men.  Cameron apparently said of her reason for not photographing Darwin’s wife that ‘women between the ages of eighteen and seventy should never be photographed.’

Embodiments of Christian values:

‘Endless Madonnas…’ Emily Tennyson wrote to Edward Lear that ‘Mrs Cameron is making endless Madonnas and May Queens and Foolish Virgins and Wise Virgins and I know not what besides. (Letter to Edward Lear. 5508. TRC.) Within 18 months of taking up the camera, she had made about 100 religious studies, nearly always using women to embody the quality.

Illustrations of Tennyson’s poems: 

‘Dense with Stately Forms.’

Cameron produced two volumes of illustrations for Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King, a 12 volume epic about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  Tennyson had asked her to make some photographs for use as frontispieces to a new 12-volume ‘Cabinet Edition’ of his poems.  In the event, only three were used, and these were from woodcut copies.  Perhaps out of sympathy, Tennyson encouraged her to fund the publication of a large-format album with 13 of the photographs tipped in.  It sold badly.  Frustrated, she declared that she had taken about 200 photographs to produce it.  Only a dozen or so copies seem to have survived. Some time later she made a few ‘Miniature Editions’ for her family and friends.  There are only four known copies.  You can see the Tennyson Research Centre’s copies of these books by searching lincstothepast.

You can see the Tennyson Research Centre’s full holdings of Cameron prints and copies of the rare Idyll books by searching lincstothepast.

Look Out For

OPEM exhibition at The Collection

28 January - 2 May 2017

Exhibition Opening Times: 10:00am - 4:00pm

OPEM 4 is the fourth biennial open exhibition hosted by The Collection and Usher Gallery, and will showcase the work of local and regional artists who were chosen by a pair of industry experts (writer/curator Elinor Morgan and artist Brian Griffiths) based on the quality and originality of their work. Hundreds of artists from around Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire and more entered into the competition, hoping to have their work featured centre-stage at a professional art exhibition.

The winning artists are:

• Reece Straw

• Jake Kent

• Stephanie Douet

• Jake Moore

• Selina Mosinski

• Matthew Chesney

• Ellen Brady

• Colette Griffin

This will be the first time some of these artists have exhibited with a professional institution. By winning the competition these artists will each receive money and supplies to fund the creation of an all-new original piece of work for this particular show. Other prizes include a £3000 purchasing/commissioning prize which has been sponsored by the Heslam Trust, while another artist will receive their own solo exhibition in The Usher Gallery.


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Last updated: 23 February 2011

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