The coming exhibitions are centred on the work of two British photographers. The difference between the Victorian Lady Hawarden and the contemporary artist Sarah Jones could not have been greater, yet their themes are so related as to bridge 130 years in the history of photography. The studies in light and expression that Lady Hawarden took of her maturing daughters are reflected in Sarah Jones’ carefully staged portraits of young women in rooms and gardens. Lady Hawarden’s small, warm brown images contrast strongly with Sarah Jones’ large-scale colour photographs. Yet both photographers are able to create a certain tension, in which hidden meanings play an important role. This exhibition in Huis Marseille will enable the public to see for the first time the work of Sarah Jones (made in the period 1995-1998) in combination with the photographs of Lady Hawarden, taken between 1857 and 1864.
The Lady Hawarden photographs were on display last year at the Canon Photography Gallery in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which also created the exhibition Clementina, Lady Hawarden, Studies from Life 1857-1864. As a result of the donation in 1939 of 775 photographs by a granddaughter of Lady Hawarden, the museum now owns almost her entire oeuvre. Her position as the wealthy wife of a major Irish landowner enabled Lady Hawarden to practise this expensive and time-consuming hobby. She nevertheless took her work as photographer seriously, participating in photography exhibitions at which her photographs hung side by side with work by professional photographers. Lady Hawarden was also the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Royal Photographic Society.
Lady Hawarden took carefully staged portraits of her eldest daughters Isabella Grace and Clementina against the backdrop of the spacious and sunny interior of their large London house. She concentrated on finding the right balance between posture and expression, in combination with light incidence and space. It is not without reason that Lady Hawarden referred to her photographs as ‘studies’ instead of portraits. Although the young women are also shown in conventional poses, dressed in fashionable crinolines, the photographer often elected to dress her models up in costumes or drape them with Oriental fabrics. Through posture and gesture, she creates a dramatic tension that can be interpreted in many ways. One of her favourite motifs was the double portrait, in which she had her daughters adopt various different identities.
Lady Hawarden’s studies are never unambiguous and just as they once stimulated the Victorian imagination, they still invite reflection today. This has made the material a rich source of inspiration for contemporary artists, among them Sarah Jones.
Museum Folkwang in Essen has organised a solo exposition in close collaboration with Sarah Jones. It consists of 15 works, selected from 4 different series made by Jones over the last five years. At Huis Marseille, this exhibition will be complemented with three works from our own collection: The House (Francis Place) II (1997), The Dining Room Table (Mulberry Lodge) I (1998) and the recently acquired photograph The Garden (Mulberry Lodge) IV (1997). These are double portraits of girls aged about 15 – approximately the same age as Lady Hawarden’s daughters – posing in rooms and gardens in a recognisably middle-class environment. Sarah Jones works with amateur models in the house of the parents of one of them, near London. Both the spaces and the models are minutely stage-managed and colour-matched. The girls generally adopt an inward-looking pose, creating a certain relationship between them and their environment. This creates a result that is both alienating and penetrating, strengthened by the sharp focus of the image and the square format of the photographs: standard 150 x 150 cm. The spectator is, as it were, sucked into the image to become part of the domestic yet theatrical tableau vivant that Sarah Jones has created. The sequential aspect of the photographs reinforces the sense of drama and story. This is more explicit in the series Consulting Room (1995) and Consulting Room (Couch) (1997), in which Jones photographs the psychiatrist’s consulting room and couch. The photographs work as a landscape, with the room functioning as a silent witness to stories told and experiences relived.
Two exhibition catalogues have been published and will be on sale at Huis Marseille:
Virginia Dodier, Clementina, Lady Hawarden, Studies from Life 1857-1864, V & A Publications, London/Aperture Foundation, New York 1999, c. NLG 90,– (English)
Ute Eskildsen, John Slyce, Sarah Jones, Museum Folkwang, Essen 1999, c. NLG 35,– (German/English)