Woolf in the World: A Pen and a Press of Her Own
One of the few biographies of women in the Dictionary of National Biography is an article about the photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, who was Virginia Woolf’s godmother. The entry for Cameron was written by Virginia Woolf’s mother, Julia Duckworth Stephen, who was the daughter of Cameron’s younger sister Maria (Mia) Pattle and Dr. John Jackson.
Cameron took a series of photographs of Virginia Woolf’s mother from 1864 to 1875. Cameron is known for her soft focus; the portrait on display was taken after the tragic death of Julia Stephen’s first husband, Herbert Duckworth. Widowed at the age of twenty-four with three young children, Julia Duckworth Stephen fell into a long grieving period. It was during this time that Cameron took many of her portraits.
In her introduction to Victorian Photographs of Famous
Men & Fair Women, Virginia Woolf wrote about Julia Margaret Cameron:
“She used to say that in her photography a hundred negatives were
destroyed before she achieved one good result; her object being to overcome
realism by diminishing just in the least degree the precision of the
focus.” Art critic,
Roger Fry also contributed an introduction in the volume: “Mrs.
Cameron was pre-eminently an artist.” She “had a wonderful
perception of character as it is expressed in form, and of form as it
is revealed or hidden by the incidence of light.” Plate 16 on
display, of Virginia Woolf’s mother, according to Fry, “is
a splendid success. The transitions of tone in the cheek and the delicate
suggestions of reflected light, no less than the beautiful ‘drawing’
of the profile, are perfectly satisfying.” Other portraits in
the volume include poets and scientists, such as Tennyson, Browning,
Herschel, Darwin, and Hooker.
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College