Sunday, August 25, 2013
Dimbola's Grande Dame comes to New York City: Julia Margaret Cameron exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Entrance wall to Julia Margaret Cameron exhibit
I have been researching the life of Alfred Lord Tennyson for two years now going on three and I have admired and been enthralled by the nineteenth century photographs of photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. To me, she and Tennyson are enigmas; therefore, undefinable. Mere mortals who walked this earth over one hundred years ago. Yet, when you look at Cameron's distinctive portraits of her friends, Tennyson, Watts, Carlyle, Holman-Hunt, her husband Charles Hay Cameron, her personal staff, including her maid, Mary Hillier, her family members, May Prinsep and Julia Duckworth Stephens, all you notice is how distinctive and timeless they are.
These men and women look as if they could be found today walking down the street. There is nothing significant about any aspect of their physical self except when dressed in Victorian era clothing or costume garb when posing as Shakespearean or mythic representations. For me, they are as real today as they were in 1867! Perhaps, because one of the things I love to do is attempt, through my research, to find out how they lived their lives, what was it about these men and women that Cameron saw as unique? Hopefully, I have discovered bits about Tennyson, Prinsep, Cameron, Julia Stephens, and Watts, that answered my questions. What I inevitably discovered was that they were as remarkably normal leading routine lives with their families but achieved greatness through Poetry, Prose, Painting and Photography.
When I found out about this exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I couldn't believe it! Finally, I was going to be able to look at photographs of these artists who feel like long lost friends for the very first time. Adding to this sublime exhibit, I was very lucky and thrilled to go with friends and even meet new friends, Stephanie, Kris, and Lucy. How lucky am I! So, there we were, four women of various ages and backgrounds, prolific and poetic each in our own right, together walking through this small two room exhibit. I wanted to rush ahead in search of My Tennyson and step in front of my favorite photograph of him reading, (above). I want to know what book he's reading? Was it his poetry, or a friend's book? Tell me Alfred, Tell me!! However, I took a deep breath and made a left turn to see the wall sized face of a woman I researched named May Prinsep (featured above) whom Cameron captured forever recognizable as Beatrice and the Lily Maid of Astolat!
In the other room faces of men, geniuses of the world of literature and science lined the wall. All Julia Margaret Cameron's friends and family members. Let's start with her husband, Charles Hay Cameron, twenty years her senior. Try not to think Dumbledore when you see him. His friend Alfred Lord Tennyson said this about one of his facial features, 'a philosopher with his beard dipped in moonlight.' This photograph Julia took in their home Dimbola Lodge, then called, on the Isle of Wight, walking distance to The Tennyson's. Another friend is poet of the day Henry Taylor. I love this particular photograph for two reasons: it is out of focus and still included in the exhibit and just look at those I'm guessing clear gorgeous blue eyes! Oh My...
The only Pre-Raphaelite painter featured and not exactly a photograph taken by Julia Margaret Cameron. You see, this is a photograph of a series taken by photogapher and Cameron friend, David Wilkie Wynfield and the subject is painter, William Holman-Hunt.
“I have had one lesson from the great Amateur photographer Mr. Wynfield. I consult him in correspondence whenever I am in difficulty. To my feeling about his beautiful Photography I owed all my attempts and indeed consequently all my successes,” Julia Margaret Cameron said.
Under glass were two books of Illustrations of Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King which he asked Julia Margaret Cameron to photograph and illustrate for him. What happened was magic, pure and simple. You have, Cameron's friends modelling as Tennyson's characters from 'Idylls' dressed in Arthurian robes and garb together with Cameron's handwritten descriptions of Tennyson's poetry. However, for this exhibit, the books opened to two photographs along with a letter written at her home, Dimbola, on the Isle of Wight. I cannot tell you how magnificent it was to look upon her handwriting! So, here are Lancelot and Guinevere, modelled by May Prinsep with one of the only two existing photographs taken with her then husband! Also, is Cameron's husband, Charles Hay Cameron portraying and dressed as Merlin and a woman identified as Agnes Mangles.
Well, there you have it. For the most part, the important ones featured. If you have a chance to come to New York City, do not miss an opportunity to visit some of my favorite friends. The Julia Margaret Cameon exhibit runs through January 5, 2014.
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