Thursday, 7 February 2013

Philip Stanhope Worsley: naff retouching

Philip Stanhope Worsley, from Poets of the Wight

I was wondering at the weirdness of this photo of the poet Philip Stanhope Worsley in the previously-mentioned book Poets of the Wight. Where are his shoulders? The answer seems to be that whoever was behind the graphics for Poets of the Wight did a completely amateurish retouching of an intimate, powerful, classic - and naughtily uncredited - Julia Margaret Cameron portrait taken in 1866, one of her brilliant trademark close-cropped portraits. The nameless retoucher has removed a pillow and sheet, and put Worsley's head in a larger framing background, with a fake and ill-proportioned black-coated body that makes him look like a Cluedo figure; it's a travesty of the original (below). Worsley, a tuberculosis sufferer, was on his deathbed; as described in Cameron's letter to Sir Henry Cole on 21st February 1866 (see the V&A page), she spent weeks helping nurse him prior to his death on 8th May that year. She gave the photograph the double-edged inscription "From life".

Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron
image from Slovenian Wikipedia (public domain USA)

You can see full details of the original print at the Metropolitan Museum of Art page: Philip Stanhope Worsley. The provenance is described there as:
(sold, Christie's, South Kensington, London, Lot 456, June 26, 1980); Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York 
I haven't been able to find the full details, but there seems to have been some controversy in the early 1980s about its exportation to the USA. The British Journal of Photography reported in 1981 that "A successful petition was made earlier this year to save a Julia Margaret Cameron portrait of Philip Stanhope Worsley for the nation" (BJP, Volume 128, p.909) but evidently this didn't work long-term, and it was one of the examples cited of 'drain' of British artworks by exportation, in Export of Works of Art; Report, Volume 20, Part 1972 (H.M. Stationery Office, 1984).

- Ray

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