Talbot & Lacock Abbey

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Select rare and early photographs by the British inventor of photography on paper, William Henry Fox Talbot (18001877), will be on view at the booth of Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs at the Winter Antiques Show, January 2231, 2010, at the Park Avenue Armory.  The focus of the installation will be a replica of the oriel window at Talbot's ancestral Wiltshire home, Lacock Abbey. The window was the subject of one of Talbot's first photographs, made in 1835. Also on view will be examples of Talbot's photographic negatives and prints from 1835 to 1846, as well as samples of his invention of photographic engraving, from 1852 to 1858. Personal artifacts on loan from Lacock Abbey will supplement these works.

Driven by a restlessly creative mind, Talbot conceived the very idea of photography during the 1830s. Unlike other early photographic processes, such as the daguerreotype, Talbot's negative/positive process proved to be the forerunner of modern photography.  After he had perfected his invention of photography on paper, Talbot developed a process for a more permanent and easily mass-produced photographic image, a contribution nearly as monumental as his invention of photography, and the precursor of the photogravure. His photographic engraving process, patented in 1852 and photoglyphic engraving, patented in 1858 revolutionized book illustration by reproducing photographs with printer's ink.

When Talbot introduced his new art to the public in January 1839, he called it "photogenic drawing." The photogenic drawing negative South American Fern, 28 March 1839, is a rare example of a dated image from the very year that photography was invented.

Talbot made extensive use of the grounds and architectural details of his ancestral home for his photographs. Roofline at Lacock Abbey, likely 1839, is one of his earliest attempts at making an architectural photograph. He found that the parts of the building lying in shade displayed no detail and the result is the negative's dramatic simplification of the roofline of Lacock Abbey, emphasizing the varied chimneys that ornament its profile.

Talbot suggested that photography could serve as a bridge between the ancient and modern worlds with his Bust of Patroclus, 1842. The bust was one of Talbot's earliest and most frequently used subjects. Unlike a person, it remains steady during long exposures and experiments with lighting. Art history owes a great deal to Talbot, for his invention allowed scholars, for the first time, to study objects in photographic reproduction. This image appeared in Talbot's seminal publication "The Pencil of Nature," published 18441846, the first photographically illustrated book.

The Ladder, 1844, is one of Talbot's most famous pictures, and features three men and bold shadows outside the stables of Lacock Abbey. This image also appeared in "The Pencil of Nature," the only plate of 24 that depicts people. In this extraordinary untrimmed print, all the glorious tones that Talbot first saw are preserved.

 

Triangles of light and shade are balanced in pairs in Loch Katrine, Pier, October 1844, a carefully constructed, symmetrical composition, with a rustic pier adding central interest to the image. Talbot included this landscape in his second publication "Sun Pictures in Scotland" (1845), his homage to the life of Sir Walter Scott.

Although Fox Talbot is best known for his invention of photography, he was a polymath who made substantial contributions to fields as diverse as botany, mathematics, optics and the study of Assyrian cuneiform. Selected artifacts from the Fox Talbot Archive from Lacock Abbey have been generously loaned by his descendants to salute Talbot's accomplishments 210 years after his birth. Sample items on view include scientific instruments, correspondence, books, botanical albums, research notes and actual objects featured in his photographs.

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