Julia Margaret Cameron in NYC and UNC

A small but choice exhibition of 35 photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) has recently opened at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to fine reviews.

Julia Margaret Cameron, Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875)
Julia Margaret Cameron, Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875) / Folio-2 PR5558 .A2 C3 1875  / William A. Whitaker Fund

Which reminds us that here at RBC, one of our most magnificent photographic books is the Cameron masterpiece Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875). The splendid volume contains a dozen large albumen prints, created by the British photographer.

The great Victorian poet Tennyson invited Cameron, his friend and neighbor on the Isle of Wight, to illustrate his poems on the Arthurian legends for a popular edition. After considerable work, costuming and staging models, she produced twelve images. However, the “Cabinet” edition used only two, reproduced as small wood-engraved frontispieces.

At Tennyson’s prompting, Cameron set to work on a deluxe edition that would juxtapose the full-size albumen prints with text excerpts, handwritten by her and reproduced lithographically, along with Tennyson’s signature at the end of each. The result was the book Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems.

In the decade preceding it, photography had been championed as a creative medium to rival painting by the likes of Henry Peach Robinson. In the magical image shown above, Cameron demonstrates photography’s representational and artistic power, posing her husband as Merlin—his natural beard lengthened by an extension—and one Agnes Mangles as Vivien, to recreate a scene from Tennyson’s text.

It is assumed that Cameron’s work pleased Tennyson, who had been dissatisfied with other illustrations of his poetry. His brother Charles Tennyson Turner wrote a sonnet “To Mrs. Cameron,” which appears at the beginning of the book. Its first lines extoll the contemporary medium’s storytelling strength:

Lo! Modern Beauty lends her lips and eyes

To tell an Ancient Story! Thou has brought

Into thy picture, all our fancy sought

In that old time, with skilful art and wise.

We’ve Been Busy, But Now We’re Back!

We’ve been busy since we launched our Blog. The Print Council of America made its first visit ever to North Carolina at the end of May, and Wilson Library was the venue for the annual meeting. The Rare Book Collection mounted displays of its diverse graphic holdings. Caricature is back in vogue, as a presentation at the meeting indicated, and our Cruikshank, Grandville, and Leech materials were much appreciated. Our copy of Grandville’s Types modernes, from the famous Donaueschingen Library—and with original drawings—was a particular standout.

Also on view for the Print Council was the new exhibition Meaningful Marks: Image and Text and the History of the Book. Up through September 28, the show explores why authors, artists, editors, and publishers often join image with text, creating more complex composite texts. It features some of the Rare Book Collection’s most provocative illustrated books.

Image of the Emperor, in Archbishop Rabanus Maurus of Mainz, De laudibus Sancte Crucis opus (Pforzheim, 1503)
Vivien and Merlin, in Julia Margaret Cameron, Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875)
Handmade colophon with 1763 print of the Virgin of Guadalupe, for Molina, Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana (Mexico City, 1571)
Wampum Snake and Red Lily, in Mark Catesby, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (London, 1731–1743)
Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, proof for Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1893)
Eugène Delacroix, illustrator, Gretchen in Church, in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: tragédie de M. de Goethe (Paris, 1828)