The greatest portrait photographer of the Victorian Age
Born 1815, died 1879.
Julia Margaret Pattle was born in Calcutta and became an innovative British photographer, famous for photographing Victorian celebrities. She is credited with pioneering photography as an art form and with taking some of the first close up portraits. These portraits were usually cropped closely round the face and taken in soft focus. Her famous ‘sitters’ included Charles Darwin and Alfred Lord Tennyson and of course, Virginia’s mother, Julia.
As well as being a famous photographer, Julia Margaret was also Virginia Woolf’s Great Aunt. As we know, Virginia’s mother was Julia Stephen. Julia’s mother was Maria Pattle who had a sister, Julia Margaret. This well known Victorian photographer was therefore Virginia’s grandmother’s sister – Virginia’s Great Aunt.
In 1838 Julia Margaret married Charles Hay Cameron who was twenty years her senior. As we speak, my resident genealogist is trying the find a link between him and the Prime Minister today, David Cameron.
Q. Was Virginia related to David Cameron?
Well, my genealogist has been on the case and yes, there is a relationship. Get ready. David Cameron’s Great Great Great Great Great Grandad (William Hay, the 17th Earl of Erroll, 1772 to 1819), was uncle to Charles Hay, the gentleman who was married to Virginia’s Great Aunt.
….. mmmm that’s what I thought.
Julia Margaret has been described as generous, talented, intelligent, eccentric and enthusiastic. She was ambitious and, with adjectives like this, she was unlike the stereotypical passive Victorian woman. Julia came to photography when her daughter gave her a camera as a gift. She was forty eight at the time so she found this passion in later life.
When Charles retired in 1848 they moved from India to England.
The Cameron’s house , Dimbola Lodge, Fresh Water Bay, Isle of Wight.
In 1860 Julia and Charles bought two adjacent cottages that served as her home and studio. She converted the coal shed into a dark room and the hen house into a studio. She named this home ‘Dimbola Lodge’ after her husband’s coffee and tea plantations in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Julia certainly moved in the circles of some of the highest in society in Victorian England.
Alfred Lord Tennyson lived nearby and attracted artists and visitors to the area. These people came to be known as the Freshwater Circle – I imagine a bit like the Bloomsberries – a group of artists, writers and thinkers. Dimbola Lodge sounds like it was an earlier version of Charleston Farmhouse; a meeting place for bohemian artists, writers and poets; people like Tennyson and Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland.
Photograph 1: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/57/Dimbola_Lodge.JPG By Editor5807 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Both photographs in the public domain.
In 1875 Julia and Charles moved back to his estate in Ceylon where Julia took fewer photographs. Chemicals were not as easy to obtain and neither was pure water for developing and printing and indeed, there was a smaller market for her work.
Julia died in 1879, in Ceylon, after catching a chill.