Julia Margaret Cameron: The Muses (part two)

After my recent post about Alice Liddell and Marie Spartali (Julia Margaret Cameron: The Muses), it was brought to my attention that her live-in local ladies Mary Anne Hillier and Mary Ryan were her true muses, featuring in hundreds of Julia’s photographs from 1864 – 1875. And of course this true, I had meant that Spartali and Liddell were in their time true muses – for others rather than just Mrs Cameron. So I want to rectify this small misunderstanding with a feature on the two Mary’s.


Julia Margaret Cameron: Mary Hillier (un-dated) – This is my favourite portrait of the lovely Miss Hillier, that catches a tender, private moment with the facility of a snap-shot – it is a modern photograph, not a posed and poised formal Victorian studio portrait. And it is incredibly feminine too, with just a hint of the nude, hastily draped young woman. Mary Hiller’s grand-daughter is still alive and lives in Freshwater, not far from where her grandfather worked at Farringford, and from Dimbola, where her grandmother was personal-maid for Mrs Cameron at Dimbola.


Julia Margaret Cameron: The Angel at the Tomb 1870. The National Media Museum comments: “An albumen print photographic portrait of Mary Ann Hillier (1847-1936) entitled ‘The Angel at the Tomb’, taken by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1870. This albumen print from a wet collodion negative is one of a series of photographs taken by Julia Margaret Cameron of her maid Mary Hillier, who was Cameron’s personal maid from 1861 to 1875. The photograph depicts the moment in Bible after the Resurrection when God sends an angel to announce that Christ has risen. Although the angel was male, Cameron used female models for the role.: (NMM)


Julia Margaret Cameron: May Day 1866 This celebration of the spring, the coming of summer, and rebirth, features some of Julia’s favourite sitters. from left: Kate (‘Kittie’) Keown; Mary Ann Hillier; Mary Ryan; William Frederick Gould; and an unknown girl).


Julia Margaret Cameron: Mary Ryan 1866. Victoria Olsen: “Mary Ryan had a colourful history.Some time around 1859, when the Camerons were still living in a suburb of London, Julia Margaret had been approached by an Irish woman who was begging with her daughter on the street. Cameron took the two in, found the woman a job, and perhaps struck by the beauty of the child – took over the child’s upbringing.” So Julia educated and cared for Mary Ryan, bring her up with her own children, and Mary filled the role of a house-maid in return. Her story has a fairy-tale consummation. According to Helmut Gernsheim (the art historian and curator who rediscovered her work after WW2), Mary had met Henry (later Sir Henry) Stedman Cotton, the son of wealthy East India Company shareholders, (he had seen her first in ione of Julia’s photographs) and they had fallen in love, and later married, As Olsen points out, it is very Dickensian, this tale of a poor beggar-girl becoming a grand lady, because of her beauty, and a photograph.


Julia Margaret Cameron: After the Manner of Perugino 1865. Mrs Cameron displays some of her knowledge of the history of art with this tribute to a grand master of the Italian Renaissance, Pietro Perugino – the master who taught Raphael (see below)


Pietro Perugino: a detail from the Madonna and Child with St John and St Sebastian 1493 This wonderful painting, marrying the realism and perspective of the Renaissance with the magic spirituality of the icon, contains this tender imagining of the Madonna.


Julia Margaret Cameron: Egeria (Mary Ryan) 1866. This remarkable portrait of Mary Ryan, with her hair apparently bobbed, is rendered so modern, so 20th century, that you notice Ryan’s beautifully symmetric visage, her appraising direct gaze, and the Grecian classical simplicity of her robe almost as secondary features. Even Julia’s mentor, Wilkie Wynfield, who inspired this kind of big close-up – the prints almost life size – did not make a more successful portrait than this.



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