Cyllena Wilson (1851-1883), the model for this picture, was orphaned in 1866 and adopted by Julia Margaret Cameron and her husband, along with her two siblings. (The sitter for the Mountain Nymph Sweet Liberty (84.XM.349.11) may be Cyllena’s sister.) She posed for several portraits in June 1867, her clearly defined sculptural features being well suited to close-ups. Her look is reminiscent of figures in classical sculpture; in fact, Cameron used her as a model in a suite of relatively unsuccessful renditions of groupings from the Elgin Marbles, which were first put on public display at the British Museum in 1816. Wilson was also the model for The Vectian Venus (1872), in which she is presented as the personification of Vectis, the Roman name for the Isle of Wight. As a bacchante she represents one of the followers of Bacchus, appearing during the celebrations held in honor of her master. Her power is also that of the muse, to inspire poets with her enchanting ways.
The mount of this print is inscribed with the words “For the Signor from Julia Margaret Cameron,” indicating that it was once owned by George Frederick Watts. The simplicity of this elegantly modeled bust-length portrait would undoubtedly have appealed to his aesthetic sensibilities. The fine lighting of the head brings the face into highly contoured prominence, leaving the neck and shoulders as bare as marble. Wilson’s hair is decorated with three star-shaped brooches, probably an allusion to the frenzied nature of the bacchantes.
In an August 1866 article in the Intellectual Observer Cameron was applauded for her ability to use the camera to achieve pictorial results that resembled another art form: “The delineations of the camera are made to correspond with the method of drawing employed by the great Italian artists . . . by selecting good models and calling forth the king of expression which a judicious artist would desire to enshrine in his work.”
Julian Cox. Julia Margaret Cameron, In Focus: From the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), 64. ©1996 The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Medium: Albumen silver print
Dimensions: 32.4 × 26.7 cm (12 3/4 × 10 1/2 in.)
Object Number: 84.XM.443.40
Place Created: Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England
Inscription: Inscribed on recto mount in ink: 'From life' and 'For the Signor from Julia Margaret Cameron'. Secondary Inscription: Inscribed on recto mount in pencil in a later unknown hand: 'A Bacchante'.
Markings: Colnaghi blindstamp.
Signed: Signed and dated on recto mount in ink.
Attribution: Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program