Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 18151879)
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10 13/16 x 8 1/8 in. (27.4 x 20.6 cm)
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1996 (1996.99.2)
This ethereal image is of an almost bodiless entity, as we might imagine a portrait of the soul or of a psychic state laid bare. The subject is Cameron's namesake and niece, Julia Jackson, at the age of twenty-one and shortly before her marriage to Herbert Duckworth. The more than twenty portraits of Julia are exceptional in the artist's oeuvre, for they do not portray her as a muse, sybil, or saint, but rather as generalized embodiments of unspecified ideals of purity, beauty, and grace.
Three years later, she was a widow and the mother of three children. Her second marriage, in 1878, to the great Victorian intellectual Sir Leslie Stephen, produced the painter Vanessa Bell and the writer Virginia Woolf. In her novel To the Lighthouse (1927), Woolf portrayed her mother as the searching, sensitive Mrs. Ramsay, ever suspended in thought. She "bore about with her, she could not help knowing it, the torch of her beauty; she carried it erect into any room that she entered."