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Exhibition Review : Julia Margaret Cameron at the Victoria and Albert Museum – 28th November 2015 to 21st February 2016

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To celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), the V&A present an exhibition that will showcase more than 100 of her photographs from the Museum’s collection. The exhibition will offer a retrospective of Cameron’s work and examine her relationship with the V&A’s founding director, Sir Henry Cole, who in 1865 presented her first museum exhibition and the only one during her lifetime.

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Julia Margaret Cameron is one of the most acclaimed female photographers of the 19th century. Her photographic career began when she received her first camera as a gift from her daughter at the age of 48. In the next few years she experimented with the art of photography.

The V&A in its previous incarnation as the South Kensington Museum played an important part in Cameron’s career, in 1868, the Museum granted her the use of two rooms as a portrait studio. Her friendship with the V&A’s founding director, Sir Henry Cole led to the museum buying some of Cameron’s photographs and being a recipient of a gift of photographs from Cameron herself. A measure of this friendship was that in 1865, the museum presented Cameron’s first and only museum exhibition during her lifetime.

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In what was still the early decades of photography, Cameron was concerned to illustrate its potential as an art form. Therefore she concentrated on posing her sitters as characters from biblical, historical or allegorical stories. Women and children were particularly favourite subjects in a variety of poses that included groups and close-ups.

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For all the interest in this particular group of photographs, it is perhaps the remarkable portraits of members of Cameron’s intellectual and artistic circle that provide the most interest.   Scientist Charles Darwin, poet Alfred Lord Tennyson and Julia Jackson, Cameron’s niece and mother of Virginia Woolf are just a few of the Victorian ‘celebrities’ that sat for her. Tennyson was a particular favourite of Cameron which resulted in a number of portraits and some photographic illustrations to his epic Arthurian poem, Idylls of the King.

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In her lifetime, Cameron’s work was appreciated for the beauty of her compositions, however she was criticised for her unconventional techniques which sometimes included prints intentionally out-of-focus, and often including scratches, smudges and other traces of the photographic process.

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This intriguing free exhibition gives some remarkable insights into the early days of photography and the way that a female photographer explored particular aspects of the Victorian ‘mindset’. It is ironic the way Cameron uses the latest technology to recreate scenes from the past using biblical or classical stories. This was clearly an attempt to illustrate that photography could be utilised as a respectable art form inspired by paintings and sculpture.

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Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy at the Science Museum’s Media Space

The exhibition is part of a nationwide celebration of Julia Margaret Cameron’s remarkable work during her bicentenary year, including the free exhibition Julia Margaret Cameron: Influence and Intimacy at the nearby Science Museum’s Media Space which displays over 100 prints given by Cameron to the astronomer Sir John Herschel.

If you would like further information about the exhibition , visit the Victoria and Albert Museum website here

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Julia Margaret Cameron Exhibition

28th November 2015 to 21st February 2016

Free Admission

The V&A is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays

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Great London Pubs – Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

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Ye Old Cheshire Cheese

Location – 145 Fleet St, London EC4A 2BU

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Just off Fleet Street.

If there was a competition for the most famous pub in London, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese would be one of the prime candidates. Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of London of 1666, it has become associated with most of the great literary figures of London. Its greatest association is with Doctor Johnson who lived in nearby Gough square, but it also been frequented by Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, G.K. Chesterton amongst others.

It was the location of the Rhymers Club in the 1890s which included Yeats and Oscar Wilde amongst its members.

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In 1907, a visiting Mark Twain was appalled at his fellow Americans flocking to the pub as a shrine to Dr Johnson.As he sat in the Doctor Johnson room at the Cheshire Cheese he remarked.

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“Look at those fools going to pieces over old Doc Johnson call themselves Americans and lick-spittle the toady who grabbed a pension from the German King of England that hated Americans, tried to flog us into obedience and called George Washington traitor and scoundrel.”

His friend Bram Stoker of Dracula fame gently mocked the American by saying “Read Johnson plentifully, I suppose,” knowing that he had never read any of his works.

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The pub’s fame has seen it regularly visited by a wide number of famous people of the decades, and is a tourist attraction in its own right.

In the 1920s one of its most famous patrons a grey parrot called Polly died, this event was reported in hundreds of newspapers of the time. Polly’s fame was such that the bird was stuffed and put on display at the pub.

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More recently the pub is the location for the American children’s book The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright and Barry Moser.

A more adult themed history was revealed in the 1960s when a number of sexually explicit tiles were found in an upstairs room, dating from the mid- eighteenth century it suggests that the room may have been used as a brothel. The tiles were donated to the Museum of London.

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The pub looks uninspiring from the outside but is a maze of small rooms and alcoves whose dark wooden panelling and smoky atmosphere from open fires transport you back in time. It was also made for visitors of a smaller stature, so beware banging heads on low beams on stairs and doors if you are above average height. If the pub is old, it has been suggested that some of the vaults underneath the pub are part of 13th-century Carmelite monastery.

Famous for being a Chop House over the centuries, food is still served and the Beer is relatively cheap by London standards brewed by the Samuel Smith Brewery.