Lady Hawarden was born Clementina Elphinstone Fleeming on 1 June 1822. One of five children, she grew up on the family estate, Cumbernauld, near Glasgow. Her father, Admiral Charles Elphinstone Fleeming, was well known for his part in the Venezuelan and Colombian wars of liberation (about 1811-25). Little is known about her mother, Catalina Paulina Alessandro from Cadiz, an 'exotic beauty' 26 years younger than her husband.
Much of Hawarden's life remains a mystery to us. It is doubtful that she kept a diary as nothing has been discovered, and there are few surviving letters to give us any insight into her life or character. We know that she married Cornwallis Maude, 4th Viscount Hawarden, in 1845 and lived in London until 1857, when she moved with her husband to the family estate in Dundrum, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Most of what we do know about Hawarden is deduced from her photographs.
It is likely that Hawarden began to experiment with photography in 1857, taking stereoscopic landscape photographs around the Dundrum estate. In 1859 the family moved back to London. Hawarden then began to photograph her daughters, firstly making stereoscopic photographs, before moving to large-format, stand-alone portraits.
Hawarden and her husband had ten children, two boys and eight girls, out of whom eight survived to adulthood. At the same time as being absorbed in motherhood, she was a prolific photographer. She exhibited her work with the Photographic Society of London in 1863 and 1864, under the titles 'Studies from Life' and 'Photographic Studies', and was awarded the Society's silver medal in both years.
Tragically, Hawarden was never to collect her medals. She died at 5 Princes Gardens, South Kensington, on 19 January 1865, after suffering from pneumonia for one week, aged 42. It has been suggested that her immune system was weakened by constant contact with the photographic chemicals.
The photographer O. G. Rejlander wrote an obituary, 'In Memoriam' published in the British Journal of Photography (27 January 1865) stating that Hawarden
'worked honestly, in a good, comprehensible style …She also was in her manner and conversation - fair, straightforward, nay manly, with a feminine grace. She is a loss to photography, for she would have progressed. She is a loss to many, many friends. She is an enormous loss to a loving family'.
Dodier, Virginia. Clementina, Lady Hawarden: Studies from Life, 1857 - 1864. London: V&A Publications, 1999. National Art Library pressmark: NC.99.1015
Ovenden, Graham, ed. Clementina, Lady Hawarden. London: Academy Editions, 1974.
National Art Library pressmark: G.30.GG.35
Mavor, Carol. Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden. London: Duke University Press, 1999. National Art Library pressmark: NB.99.1963