Rare and newly discovered collection by enigmatic and pioneering Victorian female photographer, Lady Clemintina Hawarden, for sale at Bonhams

An important collection of 37 albumen prints by Clemintina Maud, Lady Hawarden, a pair of pencil sketches of her and her husband, and 15 associated albumen prints (several possibly by Lady Hawarden), [c.1857-1864] will be sold at Bonhams on March 19 for an estimated £100,000-150,000.

The sale of this exceptional collection by one of the most important and influential Victorian fine art photographers is a rare event in this market.
The images are derived from a single album, the vast majority not represented in the Victoria & Albert Museum's collection.

Born Clementina Elphinstone Fleeming in Dunbartonshire in 1822, she was the third of five children of a British father, Admiral Charles Elphinstone Fleeming (1774-1840), and a Spanish mother, Catalina Paulina Alessandro (1800-1880). In 1845 she married Cornwallis Maude, an Officer in the Life Guards. In 1856 Maude's father, Viscount Hawarden, died and his title, and considerable wealth, passed to Cornwallis.

The surviving photographs suggest that Clementina, now Lady Hawarden, began to take photographs on the Hawarden's Irish estate at Dundrum, Co. Tipperary, from late 1857. Many of these were taken with a stereoscopic camera, and the present collection contains several Dundrum images which are one of the pair that comprise a stereoscopic image.

In 1859 the family also acquired a new London home at 5 Princes Gardens (much of the square survives as built, but No. 5 has gone). From 1862 onwards Lady Hawarden used the entire first floor of the property as a studio, within which she kept a few props, many of which have come to be synonymous with her work: gossamer curtains, a free standing mirror, a small chest of drawers and the iconic 'empire star' wallpaper, as seen in several of these photographs. The superior aspect of the studio can also go some way to account for Hawarden's sophisticated, subtle and pioneering use of natural light in her images.

It was also here that Lady Hawarden focused upon taking photographs of her eldest daughters, Isabella Grace, Clementina, and Florence Elizabeth, whom she would often dress up in costume tableau. The girls were frequently shot - often in romantic and sensual poses - in pairs, or, if alone, with a mirror or with their back to the camera. Hawarden's photographic exploration of identity, otherness, the doppelgänger and female sexuality, as expressed in the vast majority of these photographs, was incredibly progressive when considered in relation to her contemporaries, most notably Julia Margaret Cameron. As Graham Ovenden comments in Clementina Lady Hawarden (1974), "Clementina Hawarden struck out into areas and depicted moods unknown to the art photographers of her age. Her vision of languidly tranquil ladies carefully dressed and posed in a symbolist light is at opposite poles from Mrs Cameron's images...her work...constitutes a unique document within nineteenth-century photography."

She exhibited, and won silver medals, in the 1863 and 1864 exhibitions of the Photographic Society, and was admired by both Oscar Rejlander, and Lewis Carroll who acquired five images which went into the Gernsheim Collection and are now in Texas. In 1865 Lady Hawarden died, and although her loss was regretted in the photographic journals, her work was soon forgotten.

In 1939 her granddaughter presented the V&A with 779 photographs, most of which had been roughly torn from their original albums with significant losses to corners. Proper examination, and appreciation of this gift, was delayed by World War Two, and it was not until the 1980s that detailed appraisal and catalogue of the V&A holdings. This comprises almost the entire body of Hawarden's surviving work apart from the five images now in Texas, and small groups or single images at Bradford, Musée d'Orsay and the Getty. The appearance of the present collection is totally unexpected, and represents a remarkable opportunity to obtain images (most of which appear not to be duplicated elsewhere) by a photographer whose work is otherwise unobtainable.

Like those in the V&A, most of the present images have been removed from an album, but, remarkably, with very little loss: only one image is missing a corner, making this collection all the more exceptional. Some smaller images are arranged on album leaves that are still intact (measuring 322 x 235mm). As distinct from the V&A's holdings, it is presumed that these images have been taken from an album which may have belonged to one of the sitters or their siblings. The most significant group in the present collection are all approximately 198 x 144mm. and tend to depict one figure in the first floor front room at 5 Princes Gardens. Curiously there are no images of this size in the V&A collection, but the presence of close variant images in a smaller format suggests that Lady Hawarden was using two cameras in the same session. The V&A collection has a variant pose of image number 5 (below), but in the smaller format [PH.457:564-1968].

Provenance: Purchased in the 1960s, and believed to have connections to the Saltmarshe family of Saltmarshe (East Riding).


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