The effusive, eccentric associate of Carlyle, Herschel, Ruskin, Rossetti, and Tennyson, Julia Margaret Cameron earned the admiration of her eminent colleagues when she took up the camera at age fifty. Characteristically Victorian in her intense idealism, Cameron sought to portray the noble emotions, mythological figures, and ancient heroes dear to her heart. She pressed her friends and family to pose in tableaux vivants that may seem sentimental today, but she also took portraits so vivid and psychologically rich that they are timeless.
Cameron made more than twenty portraits of her favorite niece and namesake, Julia Jackson, to whom she gave this unmounted proof print. She never portrayed Julia as a sibyl or a saint but rather as a natural embodiment of purity, beauty and grace. Spared the usual props and costumes, the twenty-one-year-old sitter here seems bodiless, an ethereal spirit afloat like an untethered soul.
This poetic image depicts the woman who was the model for the beautiful Mrs. Ramsay in "To the Lighthouse", Virginia Woolf's great novel of 1927. In 1882 Julia Jackson Stephen gave birth to Virginia, who grew up to resemble her mother and, in 1926, to write the first book on her great-aunt's photographs.