Julia in Colour

The issue of colouring a monochrome image was evident in photography from the very first decades of the medium, when the novelty of the monochrome, photographic, eidetic, image was wearing off, and the options of colouring prints were presented by a generation of portrait painters seemingly made redundant by the Daguerreotype, the Calotype and the Wet Collodion print. Of course, Julia’s close friend John Herschel had created a non-silver photographic process (the cyanotype), which produced a characteristically blue (cyan) coloured print, but this was still monochrome. Hand-colouring was the technique that came to the fore, and this practice of tinting or colouring a monochrome photographic print subsisted way past the invention of colour photography (first Autochrome from 1903, then Kodachrome from 1935) – I remember my father hand-colouring photographs in the 1950s (my parents wedding photograph for example).


Loredana Isabella Crupi: 2014 colourised version of Henry Herschel Hay Cameron: portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron (1870). I’m not sure of the colouring technique used here by the talented Loredana Crupi – I guess its the result of careful work using Photoshop – but I may be wrong. The key to colourisation it seems to me, is the research that is necessary to reconstruct a coloured vision of a past that was recorded only in monochrome.

But Loredana Crupi has opened an interesting avenue of visual research with her clever and beautiful colorised versions of classic monochrome images. They raise all kinds of interesting speculations. In this case (above), what descriptions do we have of Julia’s flesh colour? Being part Indian was she of a darker complexion? What descriptions do we have of Julia’s clothes? her hair? her hands? her jewellery?, the interior of Dimbola? (etc). Fortunately living next door to Dimbola and walking the well-trodden pathways between Dimbola and the Downs, between Dimbola and Farringford, between Dimbola and Orchards the Grocer, and between Dimbola and Redoubt House, Pannells and Terrace House, I have a very good idea of the ‘colour’ of the local countryside (give or take a generation of missing English Elms killed off in the 1960s – Elms dominated the West Wight until then). These questions are one of research of course, but poetic intuition also comes into it. The psychology of Julia, an understanding of the various factors that conditioned her personal evolution, the variegations in her character, her enormous charisma, her informality, her eccentricity, her bohemianism, her orientalism, all these become aspects of the research that is a precursor to colourisation.


George Frederic Watts: Julia Margaret Cameron 1852. Julia was 37 years old when Watts made this portrait of her. She is in her mature prime, age 37, looks rather sombre, not to say sad, and wan and pale here. This is painted by Watts 1850-52, a couple of years after Julia had moved back to England from Calcutta. She is wearing a fairly conventional white and cream satin and brocade dress, with none of the wild colours she is later famous for.

Of course with Julia, we have some other evidence from the time – the (unfortunately very few) painted portraits of her. We also have some other evidence – of colorised (in this case hand-coloured) pictures by Julia, coloured in her lifetime or soon after).


Julia Margaret Cameron: Sadness (Ellen Terry as a young woman age 16). We don’t know who coloured this albumen print, but we have some additional evidence of the lovely Miss Terry’s skin tones. See below.


George Frederic Watts: Alice Ellen Terry 1864. This was painted by Watts in the same year as Julia’s photograph of Ellen was taken (1864). Watts and Terry have just married, and Watts is aflame with the inspiration of this beautiful and talented young woman. 16 was not an unusual age for marriage, the official age of consent indeed, was only 12 years old.

You can see I think that the photo-colourist has perhaps erred on the side of a popular conception of  how pink a young girl’s cheek ought to be, and perhaps Watts has idealised her into a made-up actress, muting her rosy cheeks.


George Frederic Watts: Choosing 1864 In another painting of Terry from 1864, her flesh colours are consistent. Ellen is being given the choice of flowers: “This delicate yet sensuous portrait shows the seventeen-year-old Ellen Terry choosing between the camellias, which despite their luscious appearance have little scent, and the violets in her hand which are far humbler in appearance but smell sweeter. The choice, which is symbolic of that between worldly vanities and higher virtues, had a personal significance for the artist and the sitter. 1864 was the year in which Terry gave up the stage to marry Watts, thirty years her senior, and to be educated by him. The marriage lasted barely a year, and despite Watts’s disapproval, Terry eventually returned to the stage. The portrait is framed in an enriched version of what became known as a Watts frame.” (National Portrait Gallery)

There are several descriptions of Julia in print: Victoria Olsen’s masterly biography From LifeJulia Margaret Cameron and Victorian Photography, Brian Hill’s Julia Margaret Cameron – A Victorian Family Portrait, Julia’s own Annals of My Glasshouse, Annie Thackeray’s semi autobiographical novella From an Island (etc) – all of which contain clues to Julia and her colours.


I think Loredana Crupi has made some astute choices here in the choice of a Veridian Green shawl, , and a mauvine- tinted overskirt. These were new chemically refined colours available to artists at around this time in pre-mixed, tin-tube-packaged, ready to use form. Perhaps Julia’s facial tones are a little inclined to the girlish – Julia was 55 when she posed for her son Henry Herschel Hay.


By the way, there’s a good tutorial on using Photoshop to colourise monochrome images at http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/42066/how-to-colorize-black-and-white-vintage-photographs-in-photoshop/


Loredana Crupi comments:

The issue of colouring a monochrome image was evident in photography from the very first decades of the medium, when the …

Hi Bob, Thanks for the write up!

I’ve been asked a few times how I colourise my photos. I’ve tried several different methods that vary in difficulty, control and effectiveness and all roads lead to more or less the same result. So there is no right or wrong way to do this.

Using Photoshop CS 5.5, my preferred method is to paint the colour in using solid colour adjustment layers and layer masks for individual colours and then apply various blending modes.

There’s a plethora of colourising tutorials lurking on the net. The link you have provided is certainly a good method of colourising and one that I have tried however I find that I have more control over the spread of colour using the paint brush tool to actually paint in my colours adjusting the opacity and flow as I go, (rather than selection tool and bucket fill)

Some photos achieve a realistic result more readily than others. The photo of Julia presented some challenges as it was a poor quality image to begin with. Photos like the one of Caruso, or Lucille Ball for example are relatively easy because of the tonal range provided in the original images. In other words if you start with a good quality photo then you should achieve half decent results. Also crucial to a good result is an understanding of how light affects color and how adjacent colors affect each other in an image. So blending of colour layers is often required.

Trial and error, I have found are the greatest masters of anything really and the beauty of working in a non-destructive manner means that you can go in and apply color and tonal adjustments as you see fit without permanently changing pixel values.

As for choice of colour, I do a lot of on-line research (especially where military uniforms are concerned) however as is often the case, if research doesn’t yield any clues as with the photo of Julia, then I call on my intuition.

Hope this helps and thanks again.

Cheers Loredana 🙂



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