Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and other poems (London: Henry S. King, 1875). volume 1, 12 albumen silver prints. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) Oversize 2007-0055F. Purchased with David H. McAlpin Fund of the Art Museum, Friends of the Library Fund, and the Elmer Adler Memorial Fund. 1974.
In the summer of 1874, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was living next door to Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) at Farringford, Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight. Tennyson had taken “Morte D’Arthur” published in 1842 and expanded it into “Idylls of the King” in 1859. He asked Cameron to make illustrations for a new publication of these poems and she produced over 200 prints from wet-plate collodion-on-glass negatives. Unfortunately, the publisher chose only two to be reformatted as wood-engravings and even those did not reproduce well in the final book.
At Tennyson’s encouragement, Cameron went on to produce a book of her own with albumen silver prints interspersed with texts by Tennyson lithographed from Cameron’s hand-writing. The first volume appeared in January 1875 and the second in May, selling for six guineas. The frontispiece for each volume was a portrait of Tennyson dressed as “The Dirty Monk,” dated 1869.
Cameron wrote, “My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real and ideal sacrificing nothing of Truth by all possible devotion to Poetry and beauty.”