I was lucky enough to be able to visit Swann Galleries yesterday on my lunch break at work before the gallery closed. I expected to see Kate Keown's albumen print by Mrs. Cameron. However, I was happily surprised to see May Prinsep dressed as Cenci staring right back at me. Well, we meet again future, Lady Tennyson!
Portrait of Kate Keown. Circular albumen print, the image measuring 11 3/8 inches (28.9 cm.) in diameter, the mount 20 3/4x16 7/8 inches (52.7x42.9 cm.), with a gilt rule and an embossed Colnaghi stamp on mount recto. 1866
Estimate $50,000 - 75,000
A stunning print by Cameron in a scarce circular format. Cameron's circular prints were known as "tondos" (from the Italian rotondo or "round") and reference both Renaissance work and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of her contemporaries.
This poetic work was the one of the first "life-sized heads" Cameron executed with a new larger-format camera and trimmed to the circular shape. Although Cameron's pictorial style continued to embody an inherent romanticism, this enlarged print size allowed her to render a subject more dramatically and pursue an investigation of the effects of sculptural lighting on her subject's faces. Her reliance on soft focus, intimate perspective, and slight movement imbue these portraits with startling life and spiritual resonance. She wrote in 1866, "I have just been engaged in that which Mr. Watts has always been urging me to do. A Series of Life sized heads--they are not only from the Life, but to the Life, and startle the eye with wonder & delight." (Cox 64-65).
In Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs (J. Paul Getty Museum, cat. no. 875), scholar Julian Cox locates a carte-des-visite version of this portrait, a reduced albumen print in the Isle of Wight County Council Miniature Album, a print at the Yale University Beinecke Library, and a large-format print in the Gilman Collection (which is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
A Study of the Cenci. Albumen print,
Estimate $3,000 - 4,500
From the Neikrug Gallery, New York, New York; to Frances and Donald Werner, New York, in 1975.
--Mrs. Percy Shelley
Julia Margaret Cameron often directed female models to represent tragic heroines whose sorrow made them beautiful. Cameron composed this image around the sitter's downcast eyes and scrolling hair--which spills out from under a turban. Cameron's niece, May Prinsep, plays the role of Beatrice, the central figure of Percy Bysshe Shelley's play, The Cenci (1819). Prinsep's sorrowful expression conveys the character's resignation to her fate.
Beatrice Cenci, the daughter of a Roman count, lived in Florence during the late 1500s. After Beatrice conspired with her mother and brother to have her father killed, the trial brought to light his cruelty, which included an attempt to rape her. Although the story won public sympathy, the family was nonetheless executed. Cameron was fascinated by this true story and made several photographic studies based on it (Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California).