Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (née Julia Jackson, 1846-1895) was widely regarded as the most attractive of all the daughters born to the Pattle sisters. She was the child of Mia, Julia Margaret Cameron’s youngest sister, and her husband John Jackson, a physician who practiced for twenty-five years in Calcutta. Her beauty prompted several proposals of marriage, most notably from William Holman Hunt (84.XZ.186.72) and the sculptor Thomas Woolner. She was continually sought after as a model by leading artists of the day: George Frederick Watts drew her often during childhood and painted her portrait in oil in 1874; Edward Burne-Jones used her as the model for the Virgin in his Annunciation (1879), one of the great works of Pre-Raphaelite painting. Cameron photographed her treasured namesake, niece, and godchild repeatedly over the years, creating a corpus of works that are among the finest examples of her work.
In 1867, at the age of twenty-one, Jackson accepted the marriage proposal of Herbert Duckworth (1833-1870), a barrister. This striking portrait and another (see also 94.XM.12), probably made just prior to her wedding, project an image of heroic womanhood and celebrate her cool, Puritan beauty. The perfect framing of the bust in both is given great emphasis by Cameron’s handling of light, which is carefully cast to accentuate the strength and beauty of the head. This is the most revolutionary aspect of these pictures and is akin to the attention and quality of effort Cameron expended on her images of famous men.
Duckworth was widowed in 1870 after only three years of marriage. Mourning the loss of her husband she took up studies on agnosticism and also began to nurse the ill and dying. In this period she came to know Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), an author on the subject of agnosticism and the brother-in-law of her friend Anne Thackeray. After his wife Minnie died in 1875, Stephen and Duckworth grew even closer eventually marrying in 1878. They went on to have four children including the artist Vanessa Bell and the author Virginia Woolf. Woolf described her mother in the character of Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse (1927): “The Graces assembling seemed to have joined hands in meadows of asphodel to compose that face.” Cameron’s 1872 portrait of Duckworth seems to echo this description with its subtitle, “A Beautiful Vision” (84.XM.443.45).
Adapted from Julian Cox. Julia Margaret Cameron, In Focus: From the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), 58. ©1996 The J. Paul Getty Museum.