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Exhibition: Victorian Giants opens in Sheffield from 30 June 2018

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. 

  • Amongst the highlights of the exhibition are Lewis Carroll’s photographs of Alice Liddell, his muse for Alice in Wonderland. Visitors will see Caroll’s much-loved images of Alice as a child alongside less well-known photographs he made of Alice years later, showing her as an adult. The exhibition brings together these works for the first time, as well as Alice Liddell as Beggar Maid, on loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 
  • Victorian Giants also features Oscar Rejlander’s famous picture, Two Ways of Life (1856-7), which used his pioneering technique combining several different negatives to create a single final image. Constructed from over 30 separate negatives, the work was so large it had to be printed on two sheets of paper joined together.
  • The exhibition will include seldom-seen original negatives by Carroll and Rejlander, offering a chance to see ‘behind the scenes’ as they made their pictures.
  • Visitors will be able to explore how each photographer approached the same subject, such as Cameron and Rejlander’s respective photographs of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the images they made of scientist Charles Darwin, or when Carroll and Cameron both photographed the actress, Ellen Terry. The exhibition will also include the legendary studies of human emotion Rejlander made for Darwin, on loan from the Darwin Archive at Cambridge University.
  • Victorian Giants will also feature a selection of images which are accompanied by personal captions written by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge. A Patron of the National Portrait Gallery since 2012 and an enthusiastic amateur photographer, The Duchess has written a foreword to the exhibition catalogue in which she discusses her interest in nineteenth-century photography, the subject of her undergraduate thesis while an art history student at the University of St Andrews.

Kirstie Hamilton, Director of Programmes at Museums Sheffield says: ‘We’re delighted to continue our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery with this exhibition. Victorian Giants is a fascinating celebration of how these artist’s radical approaches to image-making completely transformed photography. The remarkable stillness and incredible beauty in these works is truly captivating and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to show them here in Sheffield.’


Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography opens at the Millennium Gallery on Saturday 30 June and continues until Saturday 23 September 2018. Entry to the exhibition is free. 

A series of lectures and associated public events will be held alongside the exhibition.  Find out more here:

Image: Oscar Rejlander, The Evening Sun.

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