A recurring series of Talbot miscellany
Heading towards 25K
Although this blog has been going on for more than 100 weeks now (gulp!), the website of which it has now become a part was launched in beta just this year, on Talbot’s birthday, 10 February. We started with about 3% of the 25,000+ records online. Each of these item-level records was illustrated and relatively complete but they were being added one by one, currently standing at about 5% of the total. In response to your feedback, we announced three weeks ago that we were looking into the possibility of publishing a skeletal tree of all 25,000 known photographic negatives and prints. This has posed some challenges and has required some high-level coding. I’m happy to report that the skeletal tree is now undergoing internal testing and should be released to the public soon, perhaps even as early as next week. Although we are trying to avoid it, there is a possibility that this website may be down for a day or three during the transition. What should come out the other side is a much more immediately useful reference tool.
News from the Antipodes
Many of you will recognise Prof Geoff Batchen from his guest postings here and perhaps many more from his copious output of books. His obvious joy at seeing his latest warmed up my emails a couple of days ago. The cover design was arresting (this might be an even better recognition of an author than the raised gold letters you see in the airport bookshops). But the title, Obraz a diseminace. Za novou historii pro fotografii, threw me a bit. This Czech publication I believe represents the fourteenth language in which one of his books has appeared. To quote Geoff, this is “a history for photography rather than a history of photographs”—you can read an English summary of it here.
This serves as a reminder that there is a growing body of literature about the history of photography being published outside the English-speaking world. Not appearing on Amazon, many of these don’t come to our attention unless somebody points them out. If you know of an relevant book or article that we might have missed, please do let us know.
The early woodcuts interpreting photogenic drawings were the subject of an earlier blog.
“My Dear Papa”
This Sunday is Father’s Day, a primarily US holiday now celebrated in many countries, whose roots trace back to a 1908 coal mine disaster in which many fathers were lost, but which actually did not become official until 1966 when President Lyndon B Johnston proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.
Much of what we know about Henry Talbot comes from records left by his family, mostly through their correspondence with him, sometimes through their artwork and diaries. Even as a full adult, his second daughter, Rosamond Constance Talbot, usually addressed her letters to him as “My dear Papa”. Since his family members appear in many of Talbot’s early photographs, perhaps knowing a little more about them will help inform these portraits.
There are two matching stones in the Lacock graveyard – John Dugdale’s cyanotype interpretation of the one for Henry Talbot appeared in an earlier blog.
Just to the left of Talbot’s stone is the one commemorating Rosamond (16 March 1837 – 7 May 1906). Sometimes known as ‘Rose’ within the family, but more often as ‘Monie’, she was an artist and a social reformer who enjoyed foreign travel. The lively resort town of San Remo, on the Italian Riviera, was one of her favourite destinations. She died and was buried there.
Being born just two years before the public introduction of photography, Rosamond grew up alongside the new art. Her older sister Ela Theresa was born in 1835 and her younger sister Matilda Caroline was born in 1839 itself, so in the early years we can sometimes identify them by their physical sizes.
We have already discussed the close interest that Rosamond took in her father’s photoglyphic engraving experiments at Millburn Tower, outside Edinburgh. By then, she was in her mid-twenties and fully supportive. One can only wonder what effect she might have had if she had been more than two years old when photography was announced to the public in 1839. As it is, she was literally and figuratively exposed to photography at a young age, posing not only for the daguerreotype above but also in numerous of her father’s photographs.
In this April 1844 photograph, taken at Lacock Abbey, Rosamond stands by herself on the left, Matilda standing and Ela seated on the right. No, I don’t know why this print was cut in half (there are other prints from this negative still whole) but I would assume from the trimmed corners that the two halves were destined for an album, perhaps one with pages too small to accommodate the whole print.
While comparative growth helps separate the girls in group photographs, the situation is far more complicated in individual portraits. Both the girls and photography itself were growing rapidly in the early 1840s, so one must have a positive date to even make a start.
I can confidently say that this photograph is of Rosamond. Her father inscribed the verso of the negative in pencil: “Rosamond April/44”, one of few such ‘reference’ images.
There are 163 known letters surviving between Rosamond and her father and she is mentioned in many other family letters. These are published in the online Talbot Correspondence Project. Outside the remit of this project and largely unexamined, however, is the copious correspondence between Rosamond and other members of the family. Some of this is in the Bodleian’s Talbot Archive, some in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives in Chippenham, near Lacock, and much in the letters, diaries and notebooks in the British Library in London.
It is clear from her exchanges with her father that Rosamond absorbed his tastes for architecture and for botany. Examining Millburn Tower for him with an eye towards his photoglyphic engraving experiments, she observed that “what would please you, Papa, beyond anything is the existence of a large empty room, separated from, though close to the house, with three south windows looking out on the garden, & a good fire-place. Just the very place for your engravings!” Unrecorded, at least in anything that I have read so far, is whether merely encouraged his photoglyphic engraving work or whether she assisted him in it.
The marriage of her sister Matilda brought about the Talbot family’s extended stays in Scotland in the 1850s and 1860s. It was in Edinburgh on 27 April 1857 that Rosamond’s portrait was taken by the St. Andrews-trained Hungarian photographer, Iván Szabó.
After her father died, Rosamond moved to London and emulated the work of Octavia Hill, the social reformer concerned with the welfare of urban residents (and one of the founders of The National Trust, which now owns Lacock Abbey). This may seem strange, but Miss Matilda Talbot calculated that “Aunt Rosamond, even in girlhood, must have been in advance of her times… I think she always wanted, as far as possible, to give people equality of opportunity.” All of the women in the Talbot family were at least parlour artists, but Miss Talbot felt that after Rosamond’s charitable work “she found artistic relief in her painting…she was a true artist not just a person who went sketching…especially Aunt Rosamond, reached a very high standard of work.” Rosamond’s younger brother, Charles, was never of a strong constitution and later in the 19th c. Rosamond departed Westminster to live at Lacock Abbey to help out her taciturn brother.
The shift from urban social work to life on a country estate must have required quite an adjustment from her. We know from scattered artworks that she continued to paint. A few of these are preserved in albums in the Bodleian’s Talbot Archive. However, philanthropy had followed her to Lacock and she often sold her paintings in support of charitable causes. You might spot a ‘Rosamond Talbot’ or even an ‘RT’ in some other collection.
I’ve never had the opportunity to visit San Remo. The ‘English Cemetery’ is now part of the Cimitero Monumentale di Sanremo alla Foce. It had fallen into disrepair and volunteers are now cleaning it up and exposing the memorials. Hopefully they will locate the one that must have been done for Rosamond. In the meantime, if you happen to be traveling, please have a look for yourself. A visitor in 1883 noted that “at the head of many of the tombstones, photographs of the deceased are placed – a curious custom, but one that has much to recommend it.” When Rosamond was staying at the Hôtel des Anglais just opposite the cemetery, did she ever see these portraits and think of her father’s invention? Is there a photograph of her there?
If you locate her gravestone, please send me a picture of it. And while there, if you are good at a hand of poker, their historic casino should be worth a visit. The Catalogue Raisonné could use a bit of extra funding.
Rosamond and her sisters would make a great research topic, not so much about photography as about the type of life led during the period of Henry Talbot’s photography and photoglyphic engraving. Some easy stereotypes should be smashed. Let me know if I can assist.
Larry J Schaaf
• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at email@example.com • Attributed to Antoine Claudet, Rosamond, Ela (seated) and Matilda Talbot, daguerreotype, ca. 1845. This heavily tarnished daguerreotype was found in an envelope inscribed by Miss Talbot: “Daguerreotype in broken case. to be lifted carefully. It slips out of case” (the case is now missing). Fox Talbot Archive, the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. • WHFT, Rosamond, Matilda and Ela Talbot, two halves of a salted paper print made from a calotype negative, April 1844, William Talbott Hillman Collection, courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Schaaf 2773. • WHFT, Rosamond Talbot, salted paper print from a calotype negative, April 1844, National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-3459-5; they also hold the inscribed negative, 1937-3458; Schaaf 2469. • Rosamond Talbot to WHFT, 9/10 March 1861, Talbot Correspondence Project Document no. 08331. • Iván Szabó, Rosamond Talbot in Edinburgh, salted paper print from a collodion negative, 27 April 1857, Fox Talbot Archive, the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford. • The Szabó portrait sessions were described to Henry Talbot by Amelina Petit – see Correspondence Doc no 07619. • Matilda Talbot, My Life and Lacock Abbey (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1956), pp. 94 & 124. • Arthur Hill Hassall, San Remo, Climatically and Medically Considered (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1883), p. 16.