Press release

Famed photography album at risk of leaving the UK

Arts minister steps in to prevent extraordinary collection from export.

Charles Darwin, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron
Charles Darwin, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron

Arts Minister Michael Ellis has placed a temporary export bar on Images from the Life (the Norman Album), by Julia Margaret Cameron, to provide an opportunity to keep it in the country.

The extraordinary collection of photographs is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £3,700,000.

Arranged in a single sequence from front to back, it includes some of her finest and best-known portraits, including her niece Julia Jackson (the mother of Virginia Woolf), scientist and polymath John Herschel, poet Alfred Tennyson and famed naturalist Charles Darwin.

Apart from the aesthetic and historical value of the individual photographs, the album itself is a labour of love, representing a very personal selection of works chosen and sequenced by the artist herself and intended as a gift for her beloved daughter – whose gift of a camera introduced Cameron to photography.

Between 1864 and 1869, Cameron assembled a number of albums for her family, friends and close acquaintances. She embraced the album format, seeing it as an expressive medium which allowed her to present herself and her work in an artistic way.

It is impossible to ascertain exactly how many albums she made but ten are known to have survived and each is different: designed to be meaningful to the individual recipient.

Each album represented hundreds of hours of work and was assembled with enormous care and considerable thought as to how the images were to be viewed.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) pioneered the portrait photography format and became known for her striking portraits of celebrities of the time, as well as for photographs with Arthurian and other legendary or heroic themes.

Arts Minister Michael Ellis said:

As well as containing extraordinary depictions of some of the most famous faces of the age, this wonderful album is of outstanding aesthetic importance and significance to the study of the history of photography.

I would be delighted to see this unique album on display in the UK, where the public can enjoy and admire it.

The decision to defer the export licence follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by The Arts Council.

RCEWA member Lowell Libson said:

This magnificent album compiled by Julia Margaret Cameron for her daughter contains exceptionally beautiful prints of many of Cameron’s most famous and important images.

Cameron was, during her brief career of twelve years as a photographer, criticized for her unconventional techniques as well as lauded for the beauty of her images. She wished ‘to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real and the Ideal and sacrificing nothing of the Truth by all possible devotion to poetry and beauty.’

This album undoubtedly both heralds and commemorates the dawn of serious portraiture through the medium of the lens.

The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the album’s outstanding aesthetic importance and significance to the study of the history of photography and, in particular, the work of Julia Margaret Cameron – one of the most significant photographers of the 19th century.

The decision on the export licence application for the album will be deferred until 5 May. This may be extended until 5 September if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £3,700,000.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Michael Ellis. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item.

Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the album should contact the RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

Images from the album can be downloaded via our flickr site.

For media information contact: Yasmin Kaye, Senior Communications Officer, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tel: 0207 211 6489 Email: yasmin.kaye@culture.gov.uk

Notes to editors

  1. Details of the album are as follows: An album containing 75 photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, taken between 1864 and 1869, selected by the photographer and presented by her to her daughter, Julia, and son-in-law, Charles Norman, in September 1869. The album measures 45.9 by 31.4 cm. It is bound in red morocco and is embossed on the cover with the title ‘Mrs Cameron’s Photographs from the Life’.
  2. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by The Arts Council, which advises the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.
  3. The Arts Council champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. It supports a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. www.artscouncil.org.uk.
Published 6 February 2018