Photographs by four of the most celebrated figures in art photography will go on show at Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery this summer in a major new exhibition, Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography, which comes to the city direct from the National Portrait Gallery.
Lewis Carroll (1832–98), Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79), Oscar Rejlander (1813–75) and Lady Clementina Hawarden (1822-65) shared an experimental approach to picture-making and their radical attitudes towards photography have gone on to inform artistic practice ever since. Victorian Giants is the first exhibition to examine the relationship between these four ground-breaking artists. Drawn from public and private collections internationally, it features some of the most breath-taking images in photographic history, including many which, prior to the exhibition opening in London, had not been seen in Britain since they were made.
Oscar Rejlander was a Swedish émigré with a mysterious past; Julia Margaret Cameron was a middle-aged expatriate from colonial Ceylon (now Sri Lanka); Lewis Carroll was an Oxford academic and writer of fantasy literature; and Clementina Hawarden was landed gentry, the child of a Scottish naval hero and a Spanish beauty, 26 years younger.
While the four seem an unlikely alliance, Rejlander served as occasional mentor to Carroll, Cameron and Hawarden in different capacities. They maintained lasting associations, exchanging ideas about portraiture and narrative and although the four photographers developed distinctive styles, the overlap in their approaches has at times made it difficult to separate their output. Influenced by historical painting and frequently associated with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, they formed a bridge between the art of the past and the art of the future, standing as true giants in Victorian photography.