Julia Margaret Cameron - The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from Joy of Giving Something Foundation, Part 1 New York Monday, April 3, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Christie's, New York, 29 April 1999, lot 116

  • Literature

    Cox & Ford, Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs, no. 253
    Lukitsch, Cameron: Her Work and Career, p. 28
    Powell, Julia Margaret Cameron: Victorian Photographs of Famous Men & Fair Women, pl. 20
    Wolf, Julia Margaret Cameron's Women, p. 55, fig. 18

  • Catalogue Essay

    Sappho is Cameron’s formal title for this portrait study, a reference to the elusive Greek poet of the 6th century B. C., a poet known only in fragments of writing and very little of whose work survives. She has been celebrated over the centuries for her verses in praise of love, especially love between women, although the nature of that love remains ambiguous. In mid-19th-century England, when this photograph was made, Sappho was fashionable as a symbol of the ancient Greco-Roman world and inspired both authors and painters. Cameron’s good friend, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, used her lines as a source for some of his own poems, among them “Midnight,” “Eleanora,” and “Mariana.”

    The sitter in the present photograph is Cameron’s young parlor maid, Mary Hillier, described by Cameron in her autobiographical Annals of My Glass House as “one of the most beautiful and constant of my models.” Cameron photographed Hillier for over a decade in a variety of roles, among them the Madonna, the goddess Psyche, and the virgin martyr St. Agnes. In the image offered here, Hillier is probably holding a lyre, signifying poetry and music, although the prop is off-camera; in a variant study (Cox 254), made at the same time, a portion of the lyre is visible.

    The glass negative for this portrait was likely broken or damaged early on, for the only prints that survive show evidence of cracks or breaks in the plate, as in the present lot. Other prints of the image in this state are in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It can be assumed that Cameron preferred prints from this negative, even with its flaws, to the more prosaic variant, of which only one print has been located.


Sappho (Mary Hillier)

Albumen print.
13 x 10 1/8 in. (33 x 25.7 cm)
'Colnaghi' blindstamp, credited and titled 'The Pretty Housemaid' in an unidentified hand in pencil on the mount; credited in an unidentified hand in pencil on the reverse of the mount.

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $40,000

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The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from Joy of Giving Something Foundation, Part 1

New York 3 April 2017