(India, England 1815 – 1879)
15.8 x 15.6 cm image (circular); 28.1x 19.8 cm 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
Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The photograph and portraiture', pg.15-31, Sydney, 2007, 22 (illus.).
Natasha Bullock, Reflections in time: 19th century portrait photography, Sydney, 2005. no catalogue numbers
Renée Free and Rose Peel, Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Sydney, 1993, 7. no catalogue numbers
Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers
Alfred Stieglitz (Editor), Camera Work, no 41, New York, Jan 1913, (illus.).
Wayne Tunnicliffe, Bridled Passions, Sydney, 1996, (illus.). no catalogue numbers
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989
International Photographs from the Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jan 1991–14 Apr 1991
Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 07 Aug 1993–24 Oct 1993
Critic's Choice, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Apr 1994–10 Jul 1994
Bridled Passions, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 23 Nov 1996–02 Feb 1997
Reflections in time: 19th century portrait photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 13 Oct 2005–11 Dec 2005