L-R: The Dream (Mary Hillier) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1869. Wilson Centre for Photography; Untitled, 1979 by Francesca Woodman. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation © Woodman Family Foundation / DACS, London; Annie (My very first success in Photography), by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1864. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Self Portrait at Thirteen by Francesca Woodman, 1972. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation © Woodman Family Foundation / DACS, London.

National Portrait Gallery to showcase rare vintage prints by two of art history’s most influential photographers – Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron

More than 160 rare vintage prints will be exhibited as part of Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In, as the two photographers – who worked 100 years apart – are presented in parallel for the first time.

The exhibition will present a thematic exploration of the photographic work produced throughout both artists’ entire careers, including their best known and less familiar work. Artist’s books by Francesca Woodman, which have never been exhibited in the UK, will be on display.

From 21 March to 16 June 2024, the National Portrait Gallery will display a major retrospective exhibition of work by two of the most significant photographers in the history of the medium – Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) and Francesca Woodman (1958-1981). Bringing their work together for the first time in an exhibition of this scale, it will showcase more than 160 rare vintage prints from galleries, museums and private collections, including 96 works by Woodman and 71 by Cameron, spanning the entire careers of both photographers – who worked 100 years apart.

Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In will offer a new way to consider these two artists, by moving away from the biographical emphasis that has often been the focus of how their work is understood. The exhibition challenges this approach in its insistence on experiencing the physical print, taking the picture making of Woodman and Cameron as a starting point for consideration of their work. While neither artist aimed for technical perfection in their printing, for each it was a dynamic and essential aspect of their creative process used to explore and extend the possibilities of photographic image making.

After an extensive curatorial research period, works by Julia Margaret Cameron have been selected for loan from major museums internationally including the Getty, Los Angeles; the Metropolitan Museum, New York City; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; and the National Portrait Gallery’s own Collection. Prints made by Francesca Woodman in her lifetime, nearly 20 of which have not been previously published or exhibited, have been loaned primarily from the Woodman Family Foundation in New York, who have collaborated closely on the making of the exhibition and accompanying publication, with further loans from Tate and the Rhode Island School of Design

L-R: I Wait (Rachel Gurney) by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1872. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Untitled, from the Angels series by Francesca Woodman, 1977. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation © Woodman Family Foundation / DACS, London; Sadness (Ellen Terry) by Julia Margaret Cameron (1864) Albumen silver print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XZ.186.52; Polka Dots #5 by Francesca Woodman, 1976, Gelatin silver print. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation © Woodman Family Foundation / DACS,

The exhibition’s title, Portraits to Dream In, suggests that when seen side by side, both artists conjure a dream state within their work as part of their shared exploration of appearance, identity, the muse, gender and archetypes. The title of the exhibition comes from an observation made by Woodman that photographs could be ‘places for the viewer to dream in’. Both Woodman and Cameron produced work that was deeply rooted in mythology and storytelling and each made portraits of those close to them to represent these narratives. Further, both women explored portraiture beyond its ability to record appearance.

Following a thematic approach, visitors will experience the work of Woodman and Cameron moving forward and back in time between the nineteenth and twentieth century; and also within the relatively short span of years that each artist was active – neither worked for more than fifteen years. Themes on display will comprise: Declaring intentions & claiming space; Angels & Otherworldly Beings; Mythology; Doubling; Nature & femininity; Caryatids & the classical form; Men and Models & Muses.

Key works on display will include the first forays both artists made into the medium of photography, as they began to portray their unique perspectives and carve out distinctive styles. These include Cameron’s self-declared ‘first success’, a portrait of Annie Wilhemina Philpot in 1864, accompanied by Woodman’s ‘Self-portrait at thirteen’, taken during a summer holiday in Antella, Italy in 1972. Photographs depicting angelic and otherworldly figures will be presented in a dense constellation with pieces from Woodman’s evocative and often abstracted Angel series contrasted against Cameron’s more direct representations of cherubic beings and winged cupids. Not to be missed images by Francesca Woodman will include Polka Dots #5 and House #3 both made in 1976, seen alongside ethereal portraits of the British actress Ellen Terry made by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1864.

Other defining works by Woodman include Caryatid pieces from a major photographic project developed in the last year of her life in which she experimented with large scale diazotype prints, including depictions of herself and other models as caryatids – carved female figures which take the place of columns in ancient Greek temples. The exhibition will be the first to draw significant attention to Woodman’s portraits of men as well as exploring the importance of her ongoing photographs of friends. Providing additional insight into her practice, contact sheets and examples of Woodman’s artist’s books will be on display, exhibited in the UK for the first time.

The exhibition will include many of Julia Margaret Cameron’s most famous and much loved portraits, including those of her niece and favorite model, Julia Jackson, who would later be the mother to Bloomsbury artists Virginia Wolf and Vanessa Bell; her striking depiction of Alice Liddell as the goddess Pomona; her portraits of prominent Victorian men including John Frederick William Herschel who she captured as he posed dramatically in The Astronomer (1867); and her frequent muses, May Prinsep and Mary Ann Hillier.

“Both Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron were utterly committed to the practice of photography and to their practice as artists without reservation. They both worked incredibly hard at times when women were marginal in the history of art and photography. I hope that visitors relish the physical experience of seeing such a large collection of prints that each artist made. They are beautiful, subtle, intricate, and beguiling. Then of course to come away knowing more about these two women artists who have defined the history of photography. I hope it poses questions about how we might think in new ways about relationships between 19th and 20th century photographic practice and what a portrait is and can be.” – Magdalene Keaney – Curator, Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In

The exhibition will be accompanied by the publication, Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In by curator Magdalene Keaney, which will include essays and contributions from the collections curator of the Woodman Family Foundation, Katarina Jerinic, and leading photography historian, Helen Ennis.


Portraits to Dream In: Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron
21 March – 16 June 2024
National Portrait Gallery, London
Tickets £8.50 with concessions from £4.25