(India, England 1815–1879)
15.8 x 15.6cm image (circular); 28.1x 19.8cm sheet
The portrait of Ellen Terry was taken in the same year that Cameron began to work as a photographer. Originally titled ‘Sadness’, presented in a vertical oval format and in reverse, this image has been the subject of much conjecture.1 Ellen Terry was a renowned Shakespearean actress from a theatrical family who, at the age of 16 when this portrait was taken, was already a seasoned performer. Terry had been introduced to Cameron’s close friend and neighbour, the painter George Frederick Watts, in 1862. Cameron and her sisters played matchmakers and thus Terry and Watts (who was 47) married in February 1864. The union was not a happy one and they separated within a year and were divorced in 1877.
It is assumed that this photograph was taken after they were married, when it was clear that it was not a success. The wedding ring is in evidence on the hand which fingers the necklace. The pose – leaning against a wall with eyes downcast and a sombre expression – is forlorn. The girl, regardless of her name, is young and beautiful. Her bare shoulders, light gown and loose hair pushed back from her face combine with the pose to suggest a narrative which is enhanced by the original title of the photograph. The later title from 1875, ‘Ellen Terry, at the age of sixteen’, suggests a different narrative which is very much to do with Terry’s professional life as a famous actress. Whether she is posing in character and illustrating sadness for her public or representing her failing marriage is a moot point.
The image in the collection is a 1913 photogravure as published in ‘Camera Work’ of that year and is the later of the two versions. Unlike most of Cameron’s female portraits, the assumed character is not specifically literary or religious.
1. Cox J 1996, ‘In focus: Julia Margaret Cameron’, J Paul Getty Museum, Malibu p 12
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
7079 (Editor), Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 2007, 22 (illus.).
Natasha Bullock (Australia), Reflections in time: 19th century portrait photography, 2005. no catalogue numbers
Wayne Tunnicliffe (New Zealand; Australia) (Author), Bridled Passions, Sydney, 1996, (illus.). no catalogue numbers
Robert McFarlane (Australia, b.1942) (Author), Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers
Renée Free (Australia) (Author), Rose Peel (Australia) (Author), Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Domain, 1993, 7. no catalogue numbers
Camera Work, no 41 Jan 1913, Jan 1913, (illus.).
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Jan 1986–Jan 1986.
Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989.
International Photographs from the Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 12 Jan 1991–14 Apr 1991.
Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 07 Aug 1993–24 Oct 1993.
Critic's Choice, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 22 Apr 1994–10 Jul 1994.
Bridled Passions, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 23 Nov 1996–02 Feb 1997.
Reflections in time: 19th century portrait photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 13 Oct 2005–11 Dec 2005.