Clementina, Lady Hawarden, is a poetic, if elusive, presence among nineteenth-century photographers. As a devoted mother, her life revolved around her eight children. She took up photography in 1857; using her daughters as models, she created a body of work remarkable for its technical brilliance and its original depiction of nascent womanhood.
Lady Hawarden showed her work in the 1863 and 1864 exhibitions of the Photographic Society. With the exception of a few rare examples, her photographs remained in the possession of her family until 1939, when the more than eight hundred images were donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Only recently have they been the objects of research, publication, and exhibition.
Clementina Maude, her mother's preferred model, is seen here in a reflective pose against a star-studded wall. The casual placement of the shawl on the table and the girl's loose hair contribute to the feeling of intimacy. In the airy room time seems to be suspended. The sensuous curves of the table legs, the soft weight of the crushed velvet, and the crispness of the starry wallpaper are enhanced by the skillful handling of the collodion technique. The composition, devoid of Victorian clutter, brings together light, shadow, and compositional elements in a spare and appealing interplay. In contrast to the prevailing fashion of giving literary or sentimental titles to portraits of young women, Lady Hawarden titled her works simply "Photographic Study."