Julia Margaret Cameron Photographs of Children at the V&A Museum of Childhood

By Richard Moss | 20 October 2011
a sepia toned photograph of a young girl with a fringe holding a bouquet of flowers
Julia Margaret Cameron, Florence.© V&A
Exhibition: Julia Margaret Cameron, Photographs of Children at the V&A Museum of Childhood until February 13 2012.

When Julia Margaret Cameron held her now famous photographic gatherings at Dimbola Lodge on the Isle of Wight the guests ranged from members of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood to poets, novelists and Victorian sages.

Looking at the photographs from these literary and artistic meetings the sitters seem part of an innocent fantasy world equal parts romantic medievalism and religious allegory.

It’s this sense of innocence that pervades Cameron's many photographs of children. Her vision of childhood, in which children were sacred and the embodiment of purity, meant she often cast them as cherubs and angels wrapped in swirling fabrics.

She also believed the fledgling medium of photography had the power to be fine art and her tableaux sometimes made her younger sitters seem like elements of a Renaissance painting. Others mimiced the careful symbolist arrangements found in the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his brethren.

Yet there is another side to Cameron's work that concentrates on the closely cropped portrait. Look closely at these photographs and you will see a naturalistic intimacy absent in the work of most of her peers in the Victorian period.

The V&A has a fine collection of Cameron’s portraits of children – the museum astutely started collecting her works in her lifetime – and this welcome exhibition of prints taken from that collection is the first devoted solely to them. 

More photographs from the exhibition:

a sepia photograph of a bearded man with a violin and two children with cloaks and garlands
Julia Margaret Cameron, The Whisper of the Muse.© V&A
a sepia photograph of two children draped in fabrics holding a parasol
Julia Margaret Cameron, Paul and Virginia.© V&A
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