Rachel Schnakenberg


This study analyzes the iconographic and stylistic elements of photographs by early albumen photographer Lady Clementina Hawarden. Although Hawarden was recognized by her contemporaries for photographic skill, her early demise and lack of documentation of artistic process has led to a disconnect of her images from their narrative and historical context. Previous research on Hawarden’s imagery has investigated her use of lighting, emotion, and the eerie. However, through a visual analysis of two unnamed photos of her daughters, elements of Baroque chiaroscuro, combined with the technology of the photographic process, reveal a deep interest in art historical and emotive interest within her process.

“[T]hough they are portraits, undoubtedly they are also of far wider interest than any (p)ortraits can be–which we remember ever to have seen.”[1]

Far Wider Interest: Art, Drama, and Theatricality in the Photography of Lady Clementina Hawarden

Early pictorialism and the experimental art-photography movement of the mid-19th century included several deservedly well-known artists—among them Julia Cameron, Oscar Rejlander, and Henry Peach Robinson. However, one lesser-known female amateur photographer stands out as a figure of interest. Lady Clementina Maude Hawarden (1822-1865) was a wife, mother of eight daughters and one son, and a devoted amateur photographer.[2]  Although the context of her images is lost, her oeuvre spans over eight hundred known images from a working period of about eight years. Most of these enigmatic and captivating images feature her daughters as models and incorporate direct lighting as both a compositional and emotive element. Hawarden’s strong lighting and flair for the theatrical/Baroque distinguishes her images from contemporaries and grounds them in a tradition of female expression.

As a member of the British Photographic Society, Hawarden showed several portraits entitled “Study from Life” in the society’s 1863 and 1864 exhibitions. The British Journal of Photography reported on the 1863 event, stating that Hawarden’s portraits display “[g]raceful pose, delicate play of light in every gradation of half-tone, [and] fine chiaroscuro with unity of design.”[3] They further claimed that her work “ranks second to none, whether professional or amateur, for artistic excellence in the productions exhibited” among the female exhibitors.[4] The praise given by the journal focuses on the lighting and design, including her unique compositions, and identifies the strong contrasting light and tone values of chiaroscuro technique as a laudable quality in her images. Hawarden’s attention to the modeling of figures appears throughout her oeuvre, and many of her later works bring chiaroscuro to the forefront.

Hawarden’s use of photography as a medium served to blend new technology with an established art historical process of posing and lighting. In two unnamed photos, referred to by their Victoria and Albert Museum accession numbers, 379-1947 and 341-1947, the influence of Hawarden’s art historical background and theatricality can be clearly seen. Figure 1 (379-1947)[5] features two of her daughters, Florence Elizabeth and Clementina, in a pyramidal composition that references the geometric structure of Classical art. Florence Elizabeth stands in the middle register with her back to the corner of a window. The light streaming behind her creates a sharply-contrasted diagonal stripe on the wall—an orthogonal line connecting her upward-turned face to that of Clementina stretched on the floor at her feet. Clementina’s character wears a gauzy, Classical inspired gown that drapes from one shoulder (revealing her arms and shoulders) and a star diadem that crowns her head.[6] The light falling on Clementina’s face in 379-1947 creates a vivid chiaroscuro effect in the modeling of her features, introducing an illusion of harshness and melodrama to her youthful face. Conversely, Florence Elizabeth, who is dressed as a nun or saint, is positioned so that the light softly illuminates her features and lends her an even glow akin to the softly modeled portraits of the High Renaissance. This image displays Hawarden’s strength and process as a student of the Classical as well as her unconventional use of natural light as an almost physical element in a photographic composition.

Hawarden also uses light as a frame for the subject and as a distinguishing factor for her doubled photographs. Figure 2 (Image 341-1947) features a teenaged Clementina wearing a fancy-dress costume with half-length slashed puff sleeves and a full pleated skirt, suggesting the dress of the 1660s, with a headdress and net veil that evokes the High Renaissance.[7] The lighting and pose of this image, combined with the subject’s costume, appear to intentionally evoke a Baroque aesthetic. In this image, Clementina poses with her back against a wall, almost touching a mirror that reflects her in a three-quarter profile. The “real” girl stands in the left-central register while her mirror-self is reflected opposite in the left register. Hawarden allows bold natural lighting to connect the highlighted portions of the faces, but due to the changes in the angle of illumination, both the “real” and the “mirrored” girl possess slightly different emotive expressions. With light streaming over her face and shoulders, features modeled in a soft gradation of tone, “real” Clementina faces the viewer in three-quarter profile on the left register but directs her serene and resolute gaze toward a point past the right register. In the mirror, the image of Clementina takes on a more subtle expression: the lighting on her face creates sharp tenebrosity, and her expression is almost sorrowful. The image of the girl in the mirror appears in sharper focus than the “real” image on the left register, which adds an element of other-worldly allure to the confined space of the photograph.

One of the notable and recurring elements of Hawarden’s photography is the prominently featured studio space that grounds her subjects in a contemporary setting. This artistic choice breaks away from conventions of commercial studio portrait photography of the time as well as those set by other art photographers. Her contemporaries in art photography carefully manipulated images, removing their models and studio spaces from reality by cutting and piecing together their photographs from many negatives.[8] What remains of the studio is entirely transformed, according to the photographer’s desire, into a “fictional space.”[9] These images, especially those by her peers in the British Photographic Society who exhibited works alongside her in 1863-64, would have been undoubtedly known to Hawarden. However, while her portraits also incorporate costumed characters and traditional art compositions, her images are recognizably set in her newly built London home, which included bare board floors, papered walls, and prominently featured windows. Scholar Suzanne Cooper asserts that by acknowledging the existence of the subjects’ surroundings, Hawarden demonstrates an interest in the eerie. For example, the visible structures of the studio suggest uncanniness, as the Victorian home is seen as populated with residents but exists without its familiar trappings.[10] However, the bare, stage-like appearance of Hawarden’s studio space, combined with the narrative and costumes of the images, suggests another layer beyond the merely eerie.

Using light and costume, and with the collaboration of daughters as models, Hawarden crafts themes within her images that communicate story and emotion. In photographs 379-1947 and 341-1947, the posing and lighting follow many conventions of Baroque and High Renaissance compositions, as well as suggesting narratives through their visuals. One scholar suggests that Hawarden’s images may be meant to interpret pre-Raphaelite poetry with one costumed image serving potentially as an interpretation of Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market.” Evidence for this claim can be found in the pose of the sisters in the cover illustration of “Goblin Market,” illustrated by Dante Rossetti, which features two sisters in an intertwined repose similar to that of Hawarden’s photograph of daughters Isabella and Clementina.[11] Several of her other images provide glimpses, although their context is lost, of stories/characters and many of her images feature recognizable characterizations such as “Cinderella,” which would be known to the models and the viewer.[12] However, the drama of Hawarden’s imagery is beyond a mere interpretation of narrative, and her references to the Baroque with chiaroscuro and tenebrism create a visual language of emotion that carries through without explanation.

Narrative elements appear in the art-photographic work of many of Hawarden’s contemporaries and fellow members of the British Photographical Society, especially in the composite images of Henry Peach Robinson (with whom she shared a wall in the exhibition of 1863) and Oscar Gustave Rejlander.[13] The artistic images produced by these well-known artists were driven by story, often with accompanying text or poetry. Many images featured large spreads and numbers of people in well-defined allegorical roles and in settings that, like a painting, place the figures in an appropriate and fictional time and place.[14] While allegory may have been the goal for several of her works, her images convey the boldness of the Baroque period through dynamic poses, limited set pieces, and bold lighting.

Hawarden’s use of lighting and costumes in her images suggests an intentional process of art historical referencing and places her works out of the realm of documentary photography and into that of the budding pictorialism movement. Through many of her surviving photographs, Hawarden’s use of fictional narrative is apparent, and although the images of Florence Elizabeth and Clementina represent the girls as they physically appeared in life, their costuming and poses insinuate an element of theatricality. As in the grand Baroque paintings she references, emotion is central to her oeuvre. Emotions are communicated in the lighting, the costumes, the faces, and in the composition of her works. Peace, sorrow, joy, fear, and hatred all live in the exaggerated expressions of the poses and are illuminated by the bright sunlight she prefers. The enigma of the meaning within her images, combined with their extraordinary lighting and composition, provides them with a novelty that would be absent within their original contexts. However, even divorced from the artist’s process, Hawarden’s photographs demonstrate her mastery of light and drama.


[1] “The Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society (London).” The British Journal of Photography. January 15, 1863.

[2]  Suzanne Fagence Cooper, “Through the Looking-Glass: Photographs by Clementina, Lady Hawarden (1822–1865).” The British Art Journal.

[3] “The Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society (London),” 31.

[4] “The Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society (London).”

[5] Hawarden, Clementina, UntitledFlorence Elizabeth and Clementina, 1863-64. Albumen print, Victoria and Albert Museum, accession no 379-1947.

[6] The gown Clementina wears is thin and draped around the figure from a rectangular piece of cloth, clearly referencing the chiton or peplos garments of Greco-Roman antiquity.

[7] Clementina Hawarden, Untitled – Clementina and Mirror, 1863-64. Albumen print, Victoria and Albert Museum, accession no 341-1947.

[8] Daniel A Novak. “Photographic Fictions: Nineteenth-Century Photography and the Novel Form.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 2010, 25.

[9] “Photographic Fictions,” 25.

[10] “Through the Looking-Glass,” 6.

[11] Gwendoline Koudinoff, “Illustrating Victorian Poetry: The Dynamics of Photographic Tableaux Vivants, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne],” 89 Spring, 2019.

[12] “Through the Looking Glass,” 8.

[13] “Photographic Fictions.”

[14] “The Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society (London).”


Figure 1. Clementina Hawarden, Untitled – Florence Elizabeth and Clementina, 1863-64. Albumen print, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Accession no. 379-1947. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1047878/photograph-clementina-lady-hawarden/

Figure 2. Clementina Hawarden, Untitled – Clementina and Mirror, 1863-64. Albumen print, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Accession no. 341-1947. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1048002/photograph-clementina-lady-hawarden/.


Atencia-Linares, Paloma. “Fiction, Nonfiction, and Deceptive Photographic Representation.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 70, no. 1 (2012): 19–30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42635853.

Cooper, Suzanne Fagence. “Through the Looking-Glass: Photographs by Clementina, Lady Hawarden (1822–1865).” The British Art Journal, vol. 20, no. 3, 2019, pp. 3–11. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48617246. Accessed 18 Mar. 2023.

Koudinoff, Gwendoline, “Illustrating Victorian Poetry: The Dynamics of Photographic Tableaux Vivants,” Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 89 Spring | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2019, consulté le 23 avril 2023. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/cve/5416 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/cve.5416.

Novak, Daniel A. “Photographic Fictions: Nineteenth-Century Photography and the Novel Form.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 43, no. 1 (2010): 23–30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27764365.

“The Ninth Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society (London).” The British Journal of Photography. January 15, 1863, P.31 American Institute for Conservation Https://Cool.Culturalheritage.Org/Albumen/Library/C19/Ninth.Html.

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