Sir John Herschel

Julia Margaret Cameron (British (born India), Calcutta 1815–1879 Kalutara, Ceylon)

April 1867
Albumen silver print from glass negative
Image: 31.8 x 24.9 cm (12 1/2 x 9 13/16 in.) Mount: 39.9 x 32.9 cm (15 11/16 x 12 15/16 in.), corners clipped
Credit Line:
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Robert Rosenkranz Gift, 2005
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Sir John Herschel (1792–1871) was Victorian England’s preeminent scientist, astronomer, and mathematician, considered the equal of Sir Isaac Newton. Cameron met him in 1836 in Capetown, South Africa, where she was recuperating from illness and he was charting the stars of the southern hemisphere and recording the native flora. Just a few years later Herschel wrote to her in Calcutta of Henry Talbot’s invention of photography and sent her the first photographs she had ever seen—scientific discoveries that were “water to the parched lips of the starved,” she recalled. Of her 1867 portraits of Herschel, she wrote: “From my earliest girlhood I had loved and honoured him, and it was after a friendship of 31 years’ duration that the high task of giving his portrait to the nation was allotted to me,” sounding a bit as though she were working on a divine commission rather than on a personal, spiritual, artistic quest—with, it must be said, some incidental hope of financial profit. Of the four exposures Cameron made in April 1867, Herschel preferred this one, which portrayed him, he thought, as an “old Paterfamilias.”

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed and inscribed in Cameron's hand in ink on mount, below image BL to BR: "From life Taken at his own residence, Collingwood, April 1867. Julia Margaret Cameron"; signed in Herschel's hand in pencil on mount, recto BC: "J.F.W. Herschel"

  • Provenance

    [Gwenneth Isobel Jones]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, July, 1977