About this artwork

Thomas Carlyle, the ‘sage of Chelsea’, was a key figure in Victorian literature: Charles Dickens, John Ruskin and Alfred Tennyson all knew and admired him. But his contemporaries also noted his rough, overbearing nature and negative world view. In his essays, Carlyle identified key problems faced by his generation, such as the detrimental effects of industrialisation and laissez-faire economy on workers. He proposed that a ‘hero’, ‘a true leader’ rather than a democratically elected one, would restore order to the chaos of the nineteenth century. The unusual writing style in which he expressed these ideas – fervent, moralising, full of metaphors and references – became labelled ‘Carlylese’. Julia Margaret Cameron’s extraordinary animated portrait of Carlyle communicates something of the sitter’s forceful nature.

Julia Margaret Cameron

Julia Margaret Cameron