The collection of photographs by Hawarden came to the V&A following a museum visit in 1939. Charles Gibbs-Smith, then curator of the museum's photography collection, organised an Exhibition of Early Photographs to Commemorate the Centenary of Photography, 1839-1939. It marked one hundred years since William Henry Fox Talbot's photographic invention was publicly announced by Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution.
Hawarden's granddaughter, Lady Clementina Tottenham, came to see the exhibition and was disappointed not to find her work amid the photographs on display. Approaching Gibbs-Smith, Tottenham questioned this absence, to which Gibbs-Smith replied that, although the V&A would have liked to have included Hawarden in the exhibition, it didn't have any examples of her work. Tottenham soon returned with 775 photographs, which she generously and spontaneously donated to the V&A. Hawarden's photographs had been looked after by her eldest daughter, Isabella, until she handed them over to Lady Clementina Tottenham.
The V&A is an appropriate institution to house the archive, not only as the home to a world-class collection of photography, but also because South Kensington was Hawarden's home from 1859 until her death in 1865. The family lived at 5 Princes Gardens, just across the road west of the V&A. The house is now demolished and its site is part of Imperial College London. Tthe V&A, then called the South Kensington Museum, had opened in 1857 and the Hawarden family knew Henry Cole, the first director. Hawarden herself would have visited the Museum.
The collection of photographs by Hawarden came to the Museum in relative obscurity in 1939, without any accompanying archival material to reveal more about her life and work. Due to the advent of the Second World War, little was done with the archive immediately, and the photographs were accessioned in two batches, the first in 1947 and the second in 1968.
When photography as an art medium was re-energised in the 1970s, there was increasing interest in Hawarden's work. In 1977, the V&A photography collection including Hawarden's prints, was transferred from the library to the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Paintings, reflecting the revised status of photographs as works of graphic art rather than illustrations for text.
The painter Graham Ovenden edited the book Clementina Lady Hawarden in 1974 raising awareness of her work. Hawarden's photographs were included in the V&A's 1984 touring exhibition, The Golden Age of British Photography, 1839-1900 and in 1990-1 the J. Paul Getty Museum held the exhibition Domestic Idylls: Photographs by Lady Hawarden from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In 1984, Virginia Dodier began her MA study of Hawarden, which resulted in the book from which much of this text is drawn, Lady Hawarden: Studies from LIfe 1857 - 1864. To coincide with this publication the V&A curated the display, Clementina, Lady Hawarden: Studies from Life: 1857-1864.
The V&A holdings of Hawarden's photographs represent about 90% of her life's work. Photographs by Hawarden are often shown in the changing displays in the Photography Gallery at the V&A. Photographs that are not currently on display can be viewed in the Prints and Drawings Study Room.