Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815–1879)
Albumen silver print from glass negative
14 3/16 x 11 1/4 in. (36.1 x 28.6 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1941 (41.21.15)
In Cameron's Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty, Miss Keene, an arresting model about whom we know nothing but her last name, stares directly at the camera (and, by extension, at the viewer), her hair loose and her eyes open wide. Filling the frame, she seems to step out of the picture. The photograph takes its title from John Milton's poem L'Allegro, a celebration of life's pleasures:Come, and trip it as you go
On the light fantastic toe;
And in thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty.
Cameron sent the photograph to her friend, the renowned scientist Sir John Herschel, who wrote back, "That head of the 'Mountain Nymph Sweet liberty' (a little farouche & égarée [timid and distraught] by the way, as if first let loose & half afraid that it was too good to last) is really a most astonishing piece of high reliefShe is absolutely alive and thrusting out her head from the paper into the air. This is your own special style." Herschel seized upon the photograph's most striking quality, its startling sense of presence and of psychological connection with the viewer.