Julia Margaret Cameron (British (born India), Calcutta 1815–1879 Kalutara, Ceylon)
Albumen silver print from glass negative
35 x 27.3 cm (13 3/4 x 10 3/4 in. )
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke and Anonymous Gifts, 1997
Not on view
Mary Hillier, a beautiful young house servant at Dimbola, Cameron's home in Freshwater, was often pressed into photographic service, frequently in the role of the Virgin Mary. She managed to assume her various guises in a remarkably unselfconscious way, projecting both gentleness and strength of character. Hillier is also the model for Cameron's Sappho, a profile portrait in the Florentine Quattrocento style, perhaps inspired by the chromolithographic reproductions of Italian paintings distributed by the Arundel Society, of which Cameron was a member. The image has great presence, so much so that Cameron decided to print it even though she broke the negative. Precisely what the picture has to do with the Greek poet of Lesbos is unclear, especially since Cameron inscribed another print of the same image Adriana. The titles of two close variants reveal that, by looking left instead of right, Hillier was apparently transformed from Sappho into Dora or, when photographed from one step further back, Clio. Although Cameron often set out to portray a certain ideal, she also titled pictures after the fact, sometimes because the image seemed to embody the character of a certain literary or biblical figure, but sometimes, one suspects, quite simply because there was more of a market for images of the Virgin, Sappho, or Christabel than for portraits of the photographer's niece or a parlor maid from the Isle of Wight.
Inscription: Signed, titled and inscribed in ink on mount: "From Life Freshwater Bay Isle of Wight"; Colnaghi blindstamp and gilt outline on mount
(Christie's, South Kensington, March 16, 1978, lot 369); [Sean Thackrey]; Rubel Collection; [Hans P. Kraus, Jr.]
Crocker Art Museum. "Masterworks of Photography from the Rubel Collection," January 9, 1982–February 21, 1982.
Achenbach Graphic Arts Council. "Masterworks of Photography from the Rubel Collection," January 1, 1984–February 1, 1984.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Inventing a New Art: Early Photographs from the Rubel Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1, 1999–September 19, 1999.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840–1940," June 3, 2008–September 1, 2008.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Julia Margaret Cameron," August 19, 2013–January 5, 2014.
Daniel, Malcolm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin: Inventing a New Art: Early Photographs from the Rubel Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art 56, no. 4 (Spring 1999). p. 38.