The Midwives of Photography:

Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre (1787-1851)
On January 7, 1839, members of the French Academie des Sciences were shown products of an invention that would forever change the nature of visual representation: photography. The astonishingly precise pictures they saw were the work of Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre (1787-1851), a Romantic painter and printmaker most famous until then as the proprietor of the Diorama, a popular Parisian spectacle featuring theatrical painting and lighting effects. Each daguerreotype (as Daguerre dubbed his invention) was a one-of-a-kind image on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper.

Daguerre's invention did not spring to life fully grown, although in 1839 it may have seemed that way. In fact, Daguerre had been searching since the mid-1820s for a means to capture the fleeting images he saw in his camera obscura, a draftsman's aid consisting of a wood box with a lens at one end that threw an image onto a frosted sheet of glass at the other. In 1829, he had formed a partnership with Nicéphore Niépce, who had been working on the same problem -- how to make a permanent image using light and chemistry and who had achieved primitive but real results as early as 1826. By the time Niépce died in 1833, the partners had yet to come up with a practical, reliable process., 1-28-08.

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). A graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, and a recently elected Liberal member of Parliament in the House of Commons, Talbot was a true polymath. His intellectual curiosity embraced the fields of mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and botany; philosophy and philology; Egyptology, the classics, and art history. He had published four books and twenty-seven scholarly articles on a variety of subjects and was a fellow of the Astronomical, Linnean, and Royal Societies. Amid shopping lists and daily reminders, he filled his pocket diaries with the titles of books to read, complex mathematical formulas, and notations of experiments and experiences., 1-28-08.

Principal Photographic Processes, Arranged Chronologically

Daguerreotype. One-of-a-kind photograph on a highly polished, silver-plated sheet of copper, developed over mercury fumes. Characterized by a mirrorlike surface and astonishing detail. The first photographic process revealed to the public, in 1839; enjoyed widespread popularity in Europe, especially France, in the 1840s and in America through the 1850s. View a daguerreotype in the online collection.

Paper negative. The earliest type of negative, made of fine writing paper sensitized with silver salts, exposed in a camera, developed, and fixed; often waxed or treated for added transparency. Paper negatives generally impart a slightly fibrous texture to the print and exaggerate contrasts of light and dark. Invented by Henry Talbot in 1840 and modified by many photographers. Popular in Britain in the 1840s and in Europe from the late 1840s through the mid-1850s; rarely used in America. (Also called "calotype negative" or "Talbotype negative.") View a paper negative in this special exhibition preview.

Glass negative (wet plate). Glass plate coated with a layer of collodion (cellulose nitrate dissolved in ether) and sensitized in a solution of silver salts. Recorded far greater detail than paper negatives but required the photographer to coat the plate immediately before use and to develop the exposed negative before the collodion dried. Published in 1851; gained popularity throughout the 1850s, almost entirely replacing the paper negative by 1860. Remained in use until about 1880, when "dry plates" were introduced. (Also called "wet collodion" process.)

Salted paper print. Photograph on paper sensitized with silver salts, printed in sunlight in direct contact with a paper or (less frequently) glass negative and fixed. Characterized by a velvety matte surface; variations in chemistry yielded prints of varying hues. Used in Europe through the mid-1850s; used less frequently in America. View a salted paper print in the online collection.

Albumen silver print. Photograph on paper coated with egg white and sensitized with silver salts; most often used to print glass negatives. Characterized by a moderately shiny surface and fine detail. Commercially prepared albumen paper was available beginning in the mid-1850s and remained popular through the 1890s. The most common photographic printing process of the nineteenth century. View an albumen silver print in the online collection.

Glass negative (dry plate). Commercially prepared glass plate coated with a gelatin binder and sensitized with silver salts. Far more convenient than the wet plate, which it rapidly replaced in the 1880s. Panchromatic dry plates, sensitive to all colors of the spectrum, introduced in 1906. Commonly used into the 1920s; available today but used only for specialized applications.

Platinum print. Photograph on paper sensitized with a solution of iron and platinum salts; processed to yield a platinum image. Usually printed in direct contact with a negative. Characterized by permanency, wide tonal range with subtle gradations, and matte surface. Invented in 1873; gained popularity in the late 1880s. Scarcity of platinum during World War I led to the substitution of silver-platinum and palladium papers. Undergoing revival since the 1970s among artists using commercial and hand-coated platinum papers. View a platinum print in the online collection.

Photogravure. Photographic image printed in ink from an etched copper plate. Characterized by rich inky blacks; the "whites" are the bare paper. One of the finest means for reproducing a photograph in large numbers. Popular with artists at the turn of the twentieth century.

Gum dichromate print. Photograph on paper coated with a sensitized gum solution containing pigment; printed in sunlight in direct contact with a negative and developed in water. Characterized by broad tones, high contrast, and lack of detail, gum prints often resemble paintings, pastels, or charcoal drawings. Popular among Pictorialist photographers of the 1890s and 1900s; rarely used today. (Also called "gum bichromate print.") View a gum dichromate print in this special exhibition preview.

Carbon transfer print. Photograph made by contact printing a carbon tissue (photosensitized, pigmented gelatin on thin paper), transferring it to paper, and developing it in water. Characterized by extreme permanence, fine grain, and continuous tone. Carbon tissues were commercially available beginning in 1864, with fifteen colors available by 1893, mostly shades of reddish brown, eggplant, and black; used widely for art reproduction and commercial applications.

Film negative. Similar to the glass negative, captures an image with light-sensitive silver salts in a gelatin binder. Uses a plastic support that, unlike glass, is lightweight, nonbreakable, flexible, and can be rolled, so that many images can be made on one length of film. Flexible negative supports were introduced by Eastman Kodak Company in the late 1880s. The early support, cellulose nitrate, was generally replaced by varieties of cellulose acetate and polyester beginning in the 1930s. If not stored properly, nitrates and cellulose acetates have inherent stability problems.


Nicéphore Niépce's Boulevard du Temple, c. 1826. The first known photo (or heliograph) of a person.

[Portrait of a Young Man], 1840 Samuel F. B. Morse (American, 1791-1872)
Daguerreotype; 1 15/16 x 1 5/8 in. (5 x 4.2 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.75)

Samuel F. B. Morse met Louis Daguerre, the French inventor of photography, in Paris in the spring of 1839. Morse was the first American to see a daguerreotype and among the earliest artists in the United States to experiment with the new medium. This simple portrait of an unknown sitter, who clearly strains to keep his eyes open during the long, twenty-to-thirty minute exposure, is the only extant daguerreotype by Morse and one of the earliest photographs made in America. The strength of the portrait is in the young man's rapt expression, which seems to reflect a subtle awareness of his participation in a grand endeavor. The mindful sitter is one of the first in photography to return the gaze of the viewer., 1-28-08.

[Blind Man and His Reader], 1840s
Unknown Artist, American School
Daguerreotype; 3 9/16 x 2 5/8 in. (9.1 x 6.6 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005 (2005.100.271)

Little is known about this enigmatic portrait except that the young reader holds a copy of the New York Herald. Known for its prurient interest in scandal and crime, as well as its pioneering use of the telegraph and railroad to gather news, the newspaper, launched in 1835, had the largest circulation of any daily in the United States. One wonders what was in the news the day this photograph was made. The outbreak of the Mexican-American war in 1846? The discovery of gold in California in 1848? Or perhaps an article from Brighton, England, on Dr. W. Moon's system (1847) of raised type that allowed the blind to read with their fingers? Moon type, as it was known, pre-dated by more than twenty years the universal adoption in 1869 of Louis Braille's system (1834) of raised points., 1-28-08.

Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, ca. 1850
Albert Sands Southworth (American, 1811-1894); Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808?1901)
Daguerreotype; 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. (21.6 x 16.5 cm)
Gift of Edward S. Hawes, Alice Mary Hawes, and Marion Augusta Hawes, 1938 (38.34)

This portrait of Lemuel Shaw (1781-1861) is the result of the kind of happy accident that is the special province of photography. When Chief Justice Shaw arrived at the 5 1/2 Tremont Row studio to have his portrait made by the Boston partnership of Southworth & Hawes, he happened to stand directly under a skylight that illuminated his imposing figure like the sun passing over a mountain. The photographers quickly moved their equipment to him, and the resulting image perfectly captured the man who embodied, in the words of the Boston Transcript, "the absolute power of a crag vitalized by a human spirit." Shaw's imposing presence, sculpted by intense sunlight and gifted artistic vision, is a startling departure from the conventional posed portrait, customarily set in a studio and lit indirectly., 1-28-08.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1850s
Albert Sands Southworth (American, 1811-1894); Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808?1901)
Daguerreotype; 4 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. (10.8 x 8.3 cm)
Gift of I. N. Phelps Stokes, Edward S. Hawes, Alice Mary Hawes, and Marion Augusta Hawes, 1937 (37.14.40)

This quarter-plate daguerreotype of the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was probably made around the time of the publication of her influential novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). The enormously successful book, which the deeply religious Stowe maintained was the result of a vision from God, was instrumental in focusing antislavery sentiment in the North prior to the Civil War. Charmingly paired with a delicate potted plant in a scene evoking a quiet domestic interior, Stowe appears small and rather demure?a surprisingly mild depiction of a woman known for the power of her literary voice, and for her passionate espousal of abolition., 1-28-08.

[Man Holding Patent Office Book], 1850s
Attributed to O. H. Willard (American, active 1850s-70s, died 1875)
Salted paper print from glass negative; 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. (21.6 x 16.5 cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1999 (1999.185)

O. H. Willard was active in Philadelphia, producing stereo views, cartes-de-visite, ambrotypes, and daguerreotypes. He remains a relatively obscure early practitioner of the wet plate and salted paper processes. The weighty patent-office book may have belonged to the unknown sitter, or it may simply have been a prop supplied by the artist to steady the sitter's hands. Like many men of this period, the sitter perhaps had his portrait made as a remembrance for family members prior to a move west, or perhaps to commemorate the award signified by the ribbon proudly pinned to his shirt. His direct gaze and plain clothing, and the slight stiffness of his pose, speak to the artless nobility of the common man, a theme celebrated by Walt Whitman, who portrayed himself as a similar figure in the frontispiece of his inaugural book of poems, Leaves of Grass (1855)., 1-28-08.

[Young Boy], 1850s
Unknown Artist, American School
Salted paper print from glass negative; 12 1/2 x 10 11/16 in. (31.8x 27.2 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005 (2005.100.88)

This highly unusual formal portrait of a young African-American boy with the studied composure of a visiting prince came to light in a Boston auction in the 1980s. As the spiritual center of the abolitionist movement, Boston is a likely source for this large salted paper print. The photographer presents his sitter as destined for prominence, an apt embodiment of the abolitionist cause. The carefully posed composition and the size of the picture suggest the work of one of Boston's finest photographers: John Adams Whipple, James Wallace Black, or the firm of Southworth & Hawes., 1-28-08.

[Cornelius Conway Felton with His Hat and Coat], early 1850s
John Adams Whipple (American, 1822-1891)
Daguerreotype; Each 3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (8.3 x 7 cm)
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gifts, 1997 (1997.382.41)

This rare daguerreotype diptych shows Cornelius Conway Felton (1807-1862), Eliot Professor of Greek Literature at Harvard University, reaching for his felt hat and duster. The first son of a poverty-stricken furniture maker, Felton became one of the most renowned classical scholars in the country and, in 1860, Harvard's president. Although Felton donned academic robes, he never lost his connection to the everyday experiences of common folk. As opposed to the inflexible silk top hat worn by dandies and professors alike, the broad-brimmed felt duster that co-stars here was worn by outdoorsmen and was practical, casual, and fundamentally democratic., 1-28-08.

[Man Whittling a Stick], early 1850s
Unknown Artist, American School
Daguerreotype; 3 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (8.3 x 7 cm)
Gift of Herbert Mitchell, 1999 (1999.481.1)

The "wily Yankee" was a popular mid-nineteenth-century stage character from American regional theater. With tricks of cunning and an exaggerated costume (top hat, wide striped pants), this stock player became the visual prototype for America's "Uncle Sam." The motif of the whittler relates to the character's role. Between acts, the Yankee remained on stage, whittled, and told parables. At times, he also flirted with both the women and men in the audience as he suggestively carved a stick at his crotch., 1-28-08.

Kno-Shr, Kansas Chief, 1853
John Fitzgibbon (American, 1816?-1882)
Daguerreotype; 7 1/16 x 5 13/16 in. (17.9 x 14.8 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2005 (2005.100.82)

From 1846 to 1860, John Fitzgibbon operated one of America's most prominent daguerreian establishments in the frontier city of Saint Louis, Missouri. Fitzgibbon learned photography in 1839 while apprenticed as a saddler in Philadelphia, but he is best known for his studio portraits and scenes of regional life in the territories west of the Mississippi River. This daguerreotype of Kno-Shr, a Kansa, is one of the few dated pre?Civil War portraits of a Native American whose name and tribe are known. The chief is shown bare-chested, wearing a traditional grizzly bear claw necklace, the most coveted of all Plains Indian body ornaments. Several details are handcolored with red paint, the color of strength and success and a powerful agent to ward off evil spirits. Made during the height of the country's territorial expansion beyond the Mississippi, the photograph is remarkable as a document of a Native American before assimilation., 1-28-08.

Chatham Square, New York, 1853?54
Unknown Artist, American School
Daguerreotype; 3 1/2 x 4 13/16 in. (8.9 x 12.2 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.173)

This chaotic street scene shows Chatham Street, now Park Row, from below its intersection with Pearl Street, northeast to Chatham Square. Unlike the period's printed views, which were generally designed for clarity and filled with drafting table anecdote, this photograph shows the city as an inelegant confusion of traffic, commercial signs, and pedestrians. It captures the spirit of the street, of "downtown," where the busy, unmannerly commerce in furniture and feathers, window shades, tea, and even daguerreotypes gave rise to New York's prominence as the "Great Emporium.", 1-28-08.

Eclipse of the Sun, May 26, 1854
William Langenheim (American, 1807-1874); Frederick Langenheim (American, 1809-1879)
Daguerreotype; 1 1/4 x 1 in. (3.2 x 2.5 cm) to 2 13/16 x 2 5/16 in. (7.2 x 5.9 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.614a-g)

In 1841?42, William and Frederick Langenheim opened a daguerreotype studio in Philadelphia. Known for their technical innovations, the former journalists were not the city's first but were certainly its most celebrated photographers. On May 26, 1854, the Langenheim brothers made eight sequential photographs of the first total eclipse of the sun visible in North America since the invention of photography. Although six other daguerreotypists and one calotypist are known to have documented the event, only these seven daguerreotypes survive. In the northern hemisphere, the moon always shadows the sun from right to left during a solar eclipse; these images therefore seem odd because they are, like all uncorrected daguerreotypes, reversed laterally as in a mirror.

It is noteworthy that these daguerreotypes are quite small, three exceptionally so. In order to produce any kind of image at all, the Langenheims were forced to use the smallest cameras available, since smaller cameras require proportionally less light and there was virtually no available light when the disk of the new moon eclipsed the largest part of the sun. The missing eighth image was probably made on the smaller plate size and showed nothing at all?a total eclipse., 1-28-08.

Jean-Bernard-L?on Foucault (French, 1819-1868)
Brewer's Yeast, 1844
Daguerreotype; 9.5 x 12.7 cm (3 3/4 x 5 in.)
Soci?t? Fran?aise de Photographie, Paris

Niagara Falls, ca. 1855
Attributed to Silas A. Holmes (American, 1820-1886)
Salted paper print from glass negative; 12 x 15 7/8 in. (30.5 x 40.4 cm)
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997 (1997.382.52)

This study of Niagara Falls strives toward the sublime even as it is grounded in the workaday world of visitors at a popular landmark. The view is from Table Rock on the Canadian side of the falls and may have been made by Silas A. Holmes, a popular New York photographer of landmarks for the tourist trade., 1-28-08.

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1855
Unknown Artist, American School
Daguerreotype; 2 3/4 x 2 3/16 in. (7 x 5.6 cm)
The Rubel Collection, Partial and Promised Gift of William Rubel, 2001 (2001.756)

Born into slavery, the son of a white man and a black slave woman, Frederick Douglass (1817?1895) escaped his bondage in 1838 and became the most persuasive orator for the cause of abolition. Prompted to write his autobiography in 1845 by the doubts of those who argued that no one so articulate and well spoken could have been a slave, Douglass was forced by his own admissions to leave the country until funds could be raised to legally buy the freedom he had already seized by wit and will. He returned to the United States in 1847 and established a newspaper, North Star, which he edited for seventeen years. He traveled and lectured extensively before and during the Civil War, "thundering against slavery," in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois. Although the photographer is unknown, this majestic portrait reveals a man whose dignified posture, forceful gaze, and determined expression, along with the passion and eloquence of his words, proved the merits of his cause., 1-28-08.

[Two Girls in Identical Dresses], ca. 1857
Jeremiah Gurney (American, 1812-1886)
Daguerreotype; 4 7/16 x 3 1/4 in. (11.3 x 8.2 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation Gift, 2005 (2005.100.325)

Jeremiah Gurney was born in New York State and moved to New York City to work in the jewelry trade. He was among the earliest of the city's residents to learn the daguerreotype process and in 1840 opened one of the first portrait galleries on Broadway. Blessed with remarkable technical skills, Gurney created tonally delicate, startlingly three-dimensional portraits such as this study of two sisters. His clientele were New York's cultural elite, not the political and entertainment world catered to by his more illustrious colleague, Mathew B. Brady. Gurney effortlessly established himself, not by soliciting portraits of public figures but simply by producing the finest daguerreotypes in Gotham., 1-28-08.

Diane Arbus, Identical twins, Roselle, NJ. 1967. (Inspired Kubrick's famous scene in The Shining)

Broadway on a Rainy Day, 1859
Edward Anthony (American, 1818-1888); Henry T. Anthony (American, 1814?1884)
Albumen silver prints from glass negatives; Each 2 13/16 x 2 13/16 in. (7.2 x 7.2 cm)
Warner Communications Inc. Purchase Fund, 1980 (1980.1056.3)

Edward Anthony and his brother Henry were the founders of New York's first manufacturers and purveyors of cameras and photographic supplies. In 1859, Anthony published a series of their own stop-action or "instantaneous" stereographic views, including Broadway on a Rainy Day. Remarkable for its crystalline clarity, the photograph sold thousands of copies in the 1860s and still ranks among the most collectible images of New York City.

A stereograph, commonly known as a stereo view, is a double photograph presented in such a manner that an observer looking through a stereoscope sees a single image in three dimensions., 1-28-08.

Louis-Auguste Bisson (French, 1814-1876)
Ancient Burial Place of T-a-Kaou (Pangae-Motou), Mangareva, Gambier Islands, Polynesia, 1841-42
Daguerreotype; 16.2 x 12.1 cm (6 3/8 x 4 3/4 in.)
Phototheque, Musee de l'Homme, Paris

[Boston from a Hot-Air Balloon], October 13, 1860
James Wallace Black (American, 1825?1896)
Albumen silver print from glass negative; 10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in. (25.6 x 20.2 cm)
Robert O. Dougan Collection, Gift of Warner Communications Inc., 1981 (1981.1229.4)

Two years after the French photographer Nadar conducted his earliest experiments in balloon flight, the Boston photographer James Wallace Black ascended over the city to make the first successful aerial photographs in America. He flew on Samuel King's hot-air balloon, the "Queen of the Air," and exposed several glass-plate negatives, including this extraordinary, if imperfect, view?as much lunar landscape as "Beantown." Almost immediately, aerial photography would be put to use by the Union Army. By 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed a civilian Balloon Corps to serve under the Bureau of Topographical Engineers to spy from the skies on Confederate troops during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia., 1-28-08.

Alphonse Bon Le Blondel (French, 1812-1875)
Man at the Bedside of His Dead Child, ca. 1850
Gilman Paper Company Collection
For more information on Victorian Post-Mortem Photography, click here.

Jacques-Antoine Moulin (French, 1802-after 1875)
Two Standing Nudes, ca. 1850
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Anonymous Gift and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997 (1997.382.46)

[The Oriel Window, South Gallery, Lacock Abbey], 1835 or 1839
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Photogenic drawing negative; 3 1/4 x 4 3/16 in. (8.3 x 10.7 cm), irregular
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee and Anonymous Gifts, 1997 (1997.382.1)

Talbot's first successful camera image, a photograph the size of a postage stamp, showed the oriel window in the south gallery of his home, Lacock Abbey. Although indoors, the subject was ideal: the camera could sit motionless on the mantelpiece opposite the window for a long exposure, and the bright sunlight pouring through the window provided strong contrast. The image on that first photograph, now in the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television in Bradford, England, has, unfortunately, nearly faded from view. But using a slightly larger camera, Talbot photographed the oriel window again, probably that same summer. (He wrote, "some [pictures] were obtained of a larger size, but they required much patience.") The result, still miraculously well preserved, is the earliest photograph in the Metropolitan's collection and among the earliest surviving photographs anywhere. The diamond-paned windows are mysteriously visible in the purple chemical stains on this scrap of writing paper. Like the Venus of Willendorf, the crudely carved Paleolithic figure of a woman that is the first illustration in nearly every art-history survey because it seems to hold the promise of all that came afterward, The Oriel Window stands at the very beginnings of a new art. One senses the still palpable excitement that Talbot felt at having brought to reality an idea that had until that moment existed only in his imagination, that Nature could record its own image independent of the artist's hand. "A person unacquainted with the process," Talbot would later write, "if told that nothing of all this was executed by the hand, must imagine that one has at one's call the Genius of Aladdin's Lamp. And, indeed, it may almost be said, that this is something of the same kind. It is a little bit of magic realised.", 1-28-08.

Album di Disegni Fotogenici: The "Bertoloni Album"
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Album of 36 photogenic drawings
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1936 (36.37)

One of the most treasured objects in the Department of Photographs, Album di Disegni Fotogenici is among the rarest of photographic incunabula, containing the first photographic images seen in Italy, a trove of early pictures sent by Talbot to a fellow botanist, Antonio Bertoloni. A serious and enthusiastic amateur botanist in England, Talbot had corresponded with and sent botanical specimens to Bertoloni beginning in 1826. It was natural, then, that Talbot sent his colleague in Bologna a copy of his treatise Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing, or the Process by which Natural Objects May Be Made to Delineate Themselves without the Aid of the Artist's Pencil soon after its publication in early 1839., 1-28-08.

Articles of Glass, 1843
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 5 3/16 x 5 15/16 in. (13.2 x 15.1 cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel and Harrison D. Horblit Gifts, 1988 (1988.1047)

Still-life painters frequently included cut crystal or glassware in their elaborate fruit or flower compositions (53.111), in part as a demonstration of virtuoso technique?to paint a transparent object, visible only as reflected and refracted light, presents a special challenge and, if successful, brings particular delight to the viewer. Talbot, in plate 4 of The Pencil of Nature seems to say, "Look at what the new medium of photography can give you?not just one crystal goblet, but shelves full of glass, as effortlessly as it records any other subject.", 1-28-08.

A Scene in a Library, 1843-44
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 5 1/4 x 7 1/16 in. (13.3 x 18 cm)
Gilman Collection, Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2005 (2005.100.172)

An exceptional student first at Harrow and later at Cambridge, Talbot was a man of great learning and broad interests. Mathematics, astronomy, physics, botany, chemistry, Egyptology, philology, and the classics were all within the scope of his investigative appetite. The Philosophical Magazine, Miscellanies of Science, Botanische Schriften, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Philological Essays, Poetae Minores Graeci, and Lanzi's Storia pittorica dell'Italia are among the volumes represented in this photograph?truly an intellectual self-portrait. The image appeared as plate 8 in The Pencil of Nature. Paradoxically, A Scene in a Library was taken out of doors, where the light was stronger., 1-28-08.

The Open Door, 1844
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (14.3 x 19.4 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joseph M. Cohen and Robert Rosenkranz Gifts, 2005 (2005.100.498)

Among the most widely admired of Talbot's compositions, The Open Door is a conscious attempt to create a photographic image in accord with the renewed British taste for Dutch genre painting of the seventeenth century. In his commentary in The Pencil of Nature, where this image appeared as plate 6, Talbot wrote, "We have sufficient authority in the Dutch school of art, for taking as subjects of representation scenes of daily and familiar occurrence. A painter's eye will often be arrested where ordinary people see nothing remarkable." With this concept in mind, Talbot turned away from the historic buildings of Lacock Abbey and focused instead on the old stone doorframe and simple wooden door of the stable and on the humble broom, harness, and lantern as vehicles for an essay on light and shadow, interior and exterior, form and texture., 1-28-08.

The Pencil of Nature, 1844-46
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800?1877)
Printed book in six parts with 24 salted paper prints from paper negatives
Gift of Jean Horblit, in memory of Harrison D. Horblit, 1994 (1994.197)

Talbot's hope for commercial exploitation of his invention lay in the widespread distribution of large editions of photographic prints, the principal advantage of negative-positive process over the daguerreotype. In early 1844, in an effort to encourage the mass production of paper photographs, Talbot supported Nicolaas Henneman, his former valet, in the creation of a photographic printing establishment in Reading, a town on the route between London and his home in Lacock. The firm's initial project was Talbot's Pencil of Nature, the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs -- a milestone in the art of the book greater than any since Gutenberg's invention of moveable type. Issued in fascicles from June 1844 through April 1846, The Pencil of Nature contained twenty-four plates, a brief text for each, and an introduction that described the history and chemical principles of Talbot's invention. The photographs and texts proposed, with extraordinary prescience, a wide array of applications for the medium that included reproducing rare prints and manuscripts, recording portraits, inventorying possessions, representing architecture, tracing the form of botanical specimens, and making art. The publication, however, was not a commercial success, and as sales declined with each new fascicle, Talbot abandoned the project just before the seventh group of plates was made. Approximately forty complete or substantially complete copies survive; the Museum's example belonged to Talbot's daughter Mathilde., 1-28-08.

[Dandelion Seeds], 1858 or later
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-1877)
Photogravure (photoglyphic engraving from a copper plate); Sheet: 5 15/16 x 4 7/16 in. (15.1 x 11.3 cm); plate: 4 15/16 x 3 11/16 in. (12.5 x 9.4 cm); image: 4 1/8 x 3 in. (10.5 x 7.6 cm)
Rogers Fund, 2004 (2004.111)

This experimental proof is a fine example of the capacity of Talbot's "photoglyphic engraving" to produce photographic results that could be printed on a press, using printer's ink?a more permanent process than photographs made with light and chemicals. Like Talbot's earliest photographic examples, the image here was photographically transferred to the copper engraving plate by laying the seeds directly on the photosensitized plate and exposing it to light, without the aid of a camera. Equally reminiscent of Talbot's early experiments, this image is part of Talbot's lifelong effort to apply his various photographic inventions to the field of botany., 1-28-08.