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Sir John Herschel

Museum of Modern Art, New York


In a 9 May 1839 letter to William Henry Fox Talbot, Sir John Herschel declared his fascination with the new process:

“’It is hardly saying too much to call [daguerreotypes] miraculous. Certainly they surpass anything I could have conceived as within bounds of reasonable expectation. The most elaborate engraving falls far short of the richness and delicacy of execution, even gradation of light and shade is given with a softness and fidelity which sets all painting at an immeasurable distance’.” 

Cited in Mark Haworth-Booth, “The Daguerreotype: A New Wonder,” The Golden Age of British Photography 1839-1900 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1984), 22.


Cameron explained her approach to photographing Sir John Herschel:

“When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man.    

The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer. Most devoutly was this feeling present to me when I photographed my illustrious and revered as well as beloved friend, Sir John Herschel. He was to me as a Teacher and High Priest. From my earliest girlhood I had loved and honored him and it was after a friendship of 31 years’ duration that the high task of giving his portrait to the nation was allotted to me.”

Julia Margaret. Cameron, “Annals Of My Glass House” (1874); published in Photographic Journal (July 1927): 296-301; reprinted in Mike Weaver, Julia Margaret Cameron 1815-1879 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1984), 157.

About the Artist

Born: Calcutta, 11 June 1815
Died: Dikoya, Valley, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), 26 January 1879
Nationality: English