British photographic history

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Export of Cultural Objects 2018-19 / Julia Margaret Cameron's The Norman Album

The DCMS and Arts Council have published the 2017-18 Export of Objects of Cultural Interest report. Of note for the photography community is the report detailing the loss of the Norman Album by Julia Margaret Cameron which is quoted in full below, with additional information in square brackets: 

Case 10 Images from the Life (The Norman Album) by Julia Margaret Cameron

An album containing 75 photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79), 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 measured 45.9cm by 31.4cm. It was bound in red Morocco and was embossed on the cover with the title ‘Mrs Cameron’s Photographs from the Life’. Given to Julia Norman (Cameron’s daughter) in 1869, it had remained in the
possession of the Norman family since that time.

The applicant had applied to export the album to the United States. The value shown on the export licence application was £4,098,361, which represented an estimate. The Senior Curator, Photographs, Victoria and Albert Museum [Martin Barnes], acting as expert adviser, had objected to the export of the album under the first, second and third Waverley criteria on the grounds that its departure from the UK would be a misfortune because it was so closely connected with our history and national life, it was of outstanding aesthetic importance and it was of outstanding significance for the study of the history of photography and, through her selection of subjects, the broader history of 19th-century art and literature.

The expert adviser had provided a written submission stating that the album was particularly significant since it was made as a gift for Julia, Cameron’s daughter, whose gift of a camera introduced Cameron to photography. Arranged
in a single sequence from front to back it includes some of her finest and best-known portraits, including Julia Jackson, John Herschel, Alfred Tennyson and Charles Darwin.

Between 1864 and 1869 Cameron assembled a number of albums for her family, friends and close acquaintances. Cameron embraced the album format, seeing it as an expressive medium which allowed her to present herself and her work as artistic. Each album represented hundreds of hours of work and were assembled with enormous care and considerable thought as to how the images were to be viewed. It was impossible to ascertain exactly how many albums she made but 10 were known to have survived and each was different and designed to be meaningful to the individual recipient.

However, the significance of this album lied not only in its individual photographs but in the album as a whole, representing, as it did, a very personal selection of work chosen and sequenced by the artist herself and intended as a gift for her beloved daughter. Of all the albums compiled by Cameron which were known, this album was arguably
the most personal and most important and the individual prints were particularly fine examples.

Of all 19th-century photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron was probably the most widely represented in public and private collections throughout the world. It was noted that 12 prints in the album were not replicated in UK public collections. The subjects appeared to be predominately family members.

The expert adviser was asked how significant it was that these individuals were not prominent 19th-century figures. The expert adviser indicated that Julia Margaret Cameron was unconcerned with portraying social standing in the context of
her art and was even-handed in the treatment of her subjects.

The applicant did not disagree that the album met the Waverley criteria. They stated in a written submission that there was no doubt that the Norman Album was an item of significance in Julia Margaret Cameron’s body of work. The applicant noted that most of the images and all of the major images in the album were already represented in UK public collections. Furthermore, in addition to the Norman Album, there was another major Cameron presentation album in
a private UK collection (the Lindsay Album), so the UK was well supplied with her work in both individual plates and albums.

We heard this case in July 2017 when the album was shown to us. We found that it met the second and third Waverley criteria on the grounds that its departure from the UK would be a misfortune because it was of outstanding aesthetic importance and it was of outstanding significance for 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.

We were, however, unable to recommend a fair matching price and recommended that the Secretary of State should obtain an independent valuation of the album. The applicant was given the option to agree to be bound by the valuer appointed by the Secretary of State once their identity was known or to appoint their own independent valuer with a
view to the two independent valuers agreeing a valuation. In the event that they were unable to agree, the Secretary of State would appoint a third person to act as an arbitrator (not as an expert) by whose decision the parties would be bound.  The applicant agreed to this procedure.

The Secretary of State agreed the Committee’s recommendation and having been given the identity of the valuer appointed by the Secretary of State the applicant agreed to be bound by their valuation which was £3.7 million and the Secretary of State recommended that as the fair matching price. Having regard to the fair matching price the
Committee agreed to recommend to the Secretary of State that the decision on the export licence should be deferred for an initial period of three months to allow an offer to purchase to be made at the fair matching price of £3.7 million. We further recommended that if, by the end of the initial deferral period, a potential purchaser had shown a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the album, the deferral should be extended by a further four months.

At the end of the initial deferral period, no offer to purchase the album had been made and we were not aware of any serious intention to raise funds. An export licence was therefore issued.

See the full Reviewing Committee report here

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Comment by David McGreevy on April 30, 2019 at 22:18

Well done, Britain!

Now do Brexit.

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