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Incidents (excerpt), by Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky


Sir John Herschel

Julia Margaret Cameron (British (born India), Calcutta 1815–1879 Kalutara, Ceylon)

April 1867
Albumen silver print from glass negative
33.9 x 27.6 cm (13 3/8 x 10 7/8 in.)
Credit Line:
The Rubel Collection, Promised Gift of William Rubel
Accession Number:
  • Description

    No commercial portrait photographer of the period would have portrayed Herschel as Cameron did here, devoid of classical columns, weighty tomes, scientific attributes, and academic poses—the standard vehicles for conveying the high stature and classical learning that one’s sitter possessed (or pretended to possess). To Cameron, Herschel was more than a renowned scientist; he was “as a Teacher and High Priest,” an “illustrious and revered as well as beloved friend” whom she had known for thirty years. Naturally, her image of him would not be a stiff, formal effigy. Instead, she had him wash and tousle his hair to catch the light, draped him in black, brought her camera close to his face, and photographed him emerging from the darkness like a vision of an Old Testament prophet.
    Although very similar to another work in our collection (L.1997.84.6), this print is from a variant negative, with a slightly different inflection of eyes and mouth and, consequently, of spirit.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed, titled "Sir J.F.W. Herschel (Bart)", and inscribed "From Life Taken at his own Residence Collingwood April 1867" in ink on mount; Colnaghi blindstamp and gilt outline on mount

  • Provenance

    William Rubel

  • See also