Julia Margaret Cameron
2 of 92 portraits by George Frederic Watts
- Extended catalogue entry
Julia Margaret Cameron
by George Frederic Watts
Oil on canvas, 1850-1852
24 in. x 20 in. (610 mm x 508 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Labels on stretcher inscr.:
(a) [in sitter’s hand] ‘Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron / Wife of Charles Hay Cameron Esq / Painted by G.F.Watts Esq Year 1850 / With exceeding Care / bequeathed by me to my Son Hardinge Hay Cameron’;
(b) [in sitter’s hand] ‘Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron / Wife of Charles Hay Cameron Esqe / Painted by G.F.Watts Esqe Year 1850 / Bequeathed by me to my Son Harding Hay Cameron’;
(c) [in sitter’s hand?] ‘Hardinge Hay Cameron / bequeathed to him by his loving mother / Julia Margaret Cameron’.
This portraitback to top
This portrait was painted around 1850, the date given by the sitter both on labels and as ‘1850 Long – long ago’ on a reproduction produced around 1870–74. A related pencil study shows the head at a different angle, also looking down (see ‘All known portraits, 1850–52’). Sitter and artist became acquainted in 1849 when Watts first painted Cameron’s younger sister Virginia Pattle (later Somers Cocks).  Portraits of other sisters followed: Maria Jackson (1850), Sara Prinsep (1850–51) and Sophia Dalrymple (1851–3). All were renowned for their beauty with the exception of Julia Cameron, who was described as being ‘of noble plainness’;  she is here endowed with a romantically wistful appearance also at odds with contemporary descriptions of her energetic, enthusiastic demeanour. From 1851, the artist shared the West London home of Sara and Thoby Prinsep, Cameron’s sister and brother-in-law. In 1856 Sara noted that having been sick, Julia was now looking more like her picture.  The sitter herself liked the image, perhaps as much for the artist as the likeness, and frequently reproduced a photograph of it in albums for family members. 
The catalogue of Watts’s works produced by his widow states that the portrait dates from 1852 ‘when as a delicate and fairly young woman [the sitter] returned from Ceylon. Photographs of that date prove that the portraits are true to that period.’  Neither this nor the sitter’s dating is supported by documentation, but it is known that the Camerons returned to Britain in 1848.
The present frame, of a type commonly used by Watts, has been taken from another portrait (NPG 1295), to replace the one in which NPG 5046 was received.
Dr Jan Marsh
Footnotesback to top
1) RA 1850 (257); see also Bryant 2004, no.21.
2) A.T. Ritchie, From Friend to Friend, London, 1919, p.3.
3) Quoted Olsen 2003, p.95.
4) See Cox & Ford 2003, p.91.
5) M.S. Watts, MS ‘Catalogue of the works of G.F. Watts’, compiled c.1904–38, 2 vols, Watts G. Archive, Compton, vol.i, p.28; typescript copy NPG. The only possible candidate for a photograph c.1850–52 is the doubtful image at the end of the list of ‘All known portraits’.
Physical descriptionback to top
Half-length, looking left, dark hair, dark eyes, long oval face, wearing white gown with lace collar and loose-pleated bodice, against dark background.
Provenanceback to top
Sitter; her son Hardinge H. Cameron; his nephew Archibald D. Cameron; his son Archibald E. Cameron (sitter’s great-grandson) from whom purchased in 1975.
Exhibitionsback to top
G.F. Watts: The Hall of Fame, NPG, London, 1975.
Festival Exhibition, Harrogate AG, 1976 (no cat. no.).
Julia Margaret Cameron, Portsmouth MAG and Orleans House, Twickenham, 1978–9 (no cat. no.).
G.F.Watts: Hall of Fame, NPG touring exhibition to Nottingham AG, 1980, Usher AG, Lincoln, 1980–1, Leicester MAG, 1981 (no cat. no.).
Julia Margaret Cameron in Context, Arts Council exhibition at John Hansard G., Southampton and tour 1985–5 (1:1).
The Whisper of the Muse, P.&D. Colnaghi, London, 1990 (51).
Reproductionsback to top
See entry and note 4 for photographic reproduction by sitter.
See this portrait
On display in Room 26 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Julia Margaret Cameron
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