George Frederic Watts
- Extended catalogue entry
George Frederic Watts
by Julia Margaret Cameron
Albumen print, 1864
9 7/8 in. x 7 7/8 in. (250 mm x 200 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
On mount signed lower right: ‘Julia Margaret Cameron’;
inscr. lower left: ‘From Life’;
signed lower centre: ‘G.F.Watts. R.A’;
and Colnaghi blindstamp.
This portraitback to top
Cameron and Watts met in 1849 and maintained a close correspondence and friendship. Watts’s portrait of Cameron in oils is NPG 5046. She credited him as her artistic mentor and frequently referred to his praise of her work – sometimes inscribing quotations from his letters on mounts below her photographs. It has since remained rare to find an appraisal of her photography which does not include reference to him.
Over the years, Cameron made several photographic portraits of Watts, the first sequence in 1864 shortly after his marriage to Ellen Terry, of which four images were registered for copyright on 30 June 1864.  The present image was taken at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight later the same year and registered on 13 December, when it was described as ‘Photograph of G.F. Watts, 3/4 face, wideawake hat on head, eyes half down, frilled shirt over wrists’.  During this year, Cameron also produced portraits of Henry Taylor (NPG x18078) and Tennyson. Watts wrote, ‘Those of Tennyson are near being very good indeed but are not so fine as what you did of me.’ During 1865, two compositional images, of Watts holding a violin accompanied by two girls, The Whisper of the Muse, and a solo portrait  were registered, while an unregistered image of Watts with his latest painting (NPG P125) was also produced. In November 1866 a ‘life-size’ photograph of Watts was registered, followed in 1875 by a final portrait (‘Head looking down, figure draped, face almost profile’).
Though taken in her first year’s work as a photographer, NPG P215 has many hallmarks of Cameron’s later style which Watts paid compliment to in 1865 as ‘more like old pictures than ever’.  Both artists believed portrait photography should emulate painting in terms of composition, chiaroscuro and indistinct backgrounds.
Cameron appears to have been proud of the image; prints were included in albums she assembled for Henry Taylor, Anne Thackeray and Coutts Lindsay as well as the Herschel Album now in the National Media Museum, Bradford. The present print was signed by both artist and sitter, the latter signature greatly enhancing its value to contemporary collectors. It was purchased in 1982, together with Cameron’s portraits of Sir John Herschel (NPG P213) and Anthony Trollope (NPG P214) to replace those contained in the Herschel Album (originally acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1975 and subsequently presented to the NMM).
Other extant prints are in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, CA (Overstone Album 84.XZ.186.49 and 84.XM.349.7); Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (Henry Taylor Album no.100); Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (D.05963/3); George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, NY (1:1129:0007); Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin (Thackeray album, 964:0312:0001_0061 and Lindsay Album, 33); National Media Museum, Bradford (Herschel Album, 1984-5-17/8 and 1984-5017/38); and Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Ph.17-1939).
Dr Jan Marsh
Footnotesback to top
1) Cox & Ford 2003, nos 826–9 list only four solo portraits of G.F. Watts by Cameron (including NPG P125), but the Copyright Record shows she registered eight (not including P125) at various times between 1864 and 1875. As she did not deposit images with the Copyright Office, it is not possible to accurately identify all eight, but four images were registered in 1864, two in 1865, and one each in 1866 and 1875.
2) National Archives (COPY 1/7).
3) Letter from G.F. Watts to J.M. Cameron [undated], NPG Archive.
4) Reg. for copyright 1865 Nov. 11: National Archives (COPY 1/9); see Cox & Ford 2003, no.828.
5) Letter from G.F. Watts to J.M. Cameron, 21 June 1865, NPG Archive.
Physical descriptionback to top
Half-length, to right, looking down, right hand to chest, wearing hat.
Provenanceback to top
Purchased Christie’s, 28 Oct. 1982 (170).
Reproductionsback to top
Cox & Ford 2003, p.632, no.827.
Ford 1975, p.31.
Gernsheim 1975, p.123.
Weaver 1986, p.19, p.81.
View all known portraits for Julia Margaret Cameron
View all known portraits for George Frederic Watts
Visit From Your Armchair
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
An online exhibition celebrating the very best in contemporary portrait photography.
Explore our community photography project, which presents a personal record of the UK during lockdown.
Sculptures in 360°
See sculptures and fascinating objects from our Collection from all angles.
David Hockney: Drawing from Life
Watch highlights from our special exhibition, which had to close early in March 2020 due to lockdown.
- Photographic holdings - Albums 163-228
- Julia Margaret Cameron
- Learn more
- Photographic holdings - print and negative collections
- Julia Margaret Cameron: 'Poets, prophets, painters and lovely maidens'
- Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue
- The Watts Collection
- 2017 Anniversaries
- Room 26: Portraits by G.F. Watts
- Only Connect - installation video
- Only Connect
- Room 25: Women, politics and domestic life in Victorian Britain
- Rebel women
- Room 26: G.F. Watts Bicentenary
- Princes of Victorian Bohemia: Photographs by David Wilkie Wynfield