In 1864 Julia Margaret Cameron, at the age of 48, took up photography. Her motivation was, “to arrest all beauty that came before me.” One of her first successes was an image created for her close friend, the painter George Fredrick Watts. The photograph, which she titled, “Sadness,” was a study of the Shakespearean actress, Ellen Terry.
Terry came from a theatrical family and had her stage debut at age nine. In 1862 she was introduced to Watts when she posed for one of his paintings. Conceding to the pressure of others, Terry and Watts were married in February 1864, when she was just sixteen. Within a year, the couple had separated, and they were formally divorced in 1877.
It is likely that this portrait was made on their honeymoon. And while Terry may have been striking a pose for Cameron, the picture’s title and Terry’s expression suggests that Cameron was probing Terry’s conflicted and anxious soul. Later, in her autobiography, Terry recalls how difficult her relationship with Watts actually was.*
Why did Stieglitz choose to reproduce Cameron’s, “Sadness” as a photogravure in Camera Work (entitled Ellen Terry, at the Age of Sixteen) ? Stieglitz believed that Cameron was one of fine art photography’s earliest practitioners and “Sadness” a classic example of her intentions.
* from In Focus: Julia Margaret Cameron. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles