Auctions | June 13, 2016

One of Julia Margaret Cameron's First Photographs for Sale at Bonhams

Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, including the first image she ever took which truly satisfied her, are to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books, Manuscripts and Original Illustrations sale in London on 15 June. Four early prints are estimated at £6,000-8,000 and a magnificent portrait of Kate Keown is estimated at £30,000-50,000.

Cameron (1815-1879) took up photography in 1863 at the age of 48 when her daughter and son-in-law gave her a camera as a Christmas present. She was immediately captivated and threw herself into mastering the complicated and labour-intensive art. By the end of January 1864 she had taken the first image to meet with her satisfaction - a photograph of Annie Philpot, the daughter of a neighbour on the Isle of Wight where Cameron lived from 1860-1875. In a letter to Annie’s father Benjamin, to be offered with the print, Cameron wrote, “My first perfect success in the complete photograph owning greatly to the sweetness and docility of the sitter.” Another of the images in the set of four shows Annie with Elizabeth Keown, one of three daughters of a military officer stationed on the Isle of Wight. No other copy of this print is known to exist.

During the spring and summer of 1866, Cameron experimented with a large-format camera, producing her ground-breaking series of twelve "life-size heads". One of these was of Kate Keown, Elizabeth’s sister and one of Cameron’s favourite models. Photographs of Kate Keown are highly sought after.

Bonhams Head of Books, Matthew Haley, said, ”Although her work was not highly regarded during her lifetime, Julia Cameron is now recognized as one of the most gifted of Victorian photographers who in the course of her seven year career transformed the art of photographic portraiture.  Through her friendship with Alfred Tennyson and her sister’s society connections she was able to photograph some of the leading figures of her time, but it is in her images of children that she is perhaps at her most affecting and spontaneous.”