[Julia Margaret Cameron, Christabel, 1866. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art]
August 19, 2013 – January 5, 2014
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.
This will be 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 thirty-five 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.
When she received her first camera in December 1863 as a gift from
her daughter and son-in-law, Cameron was forty-eight, 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 an uncommon sense of breath and life.
The exhibition will feature masterpieces from each of Cameron's three
major bodies of work: portraits of men "great thro' genius," including
painter G. F. Watts, poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, scientist Sir John
Herschel, and philosopher and historian 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 or her Annunciation in the style of Perugino.