With the coming of spring and brighter weather, Henry Talbot was inspired to turn to his cameras. What was he up to during these April days? (yes, I confess that this is really just an excuse to look at some rarely seen photographs) You could consider them to be Easter eggs, if you wish.
2 April 1841
I won’t say anything about bolstering your spirits on a Friday morning, but what a strange image this is. Unless one of our readers comes up with a posh Victorian term for this item, I think it is a bolster taken off a couch. But why a vertical? Talbot dated it in the negative at the top so I assume that this is the way that he envisioned this subject. Was it merely a detailed pattern for a lens test? A convenient indoor subject on a rainy day?
3 April 1841
Bridge over the River Avon at Lacock
As we have seen, Talbot discovered the calotype negative process in September 1840, only six months before this photograph. The bridge and the shimmery reflections in the water were subjects that Talbot returned to, perhaps somewhat out of convenience for its proximity to the Abbey, perhaps more for its intricate aspects of forms and tonalities. Talbot himself did the severe clipping of this negative before he sent prints to Sir John Herschel and others. Other than removing defective portions (and thereby calling more attention to them), no, I cannot fathom his intentions.
Bust of Patroclus
There are more than sixty known views of Talbot’s favourite subject, often testing out the effects of light and different angles, but usually depicting all or most of the plaster cast with its base. Here we have a startling closeup with Patroclus staring defiantly directly into the camera lens. The pencil dating on the negative clearly shows through, just as Talbot expected. Why are the two corners cut diagonally? Talbot often pasted the negative paper directly onto the inside of the camera back for exposure, cruelly cutting the paper out afterwards. Was this a small enough sheet to merit only two dabs from the paste pot? This negative measures little over 5 x 3 cm.
5 April 1842
Nurse Holding Charles Henry Talbot, with Ela and Rosamond Talbot
The staff of a country house were not surprised by unusual requests from their sometimes eccentric masters, but Eliza Frayland had been in harness for only a month when she was pressed into service for this photograph. Had she seen enough photography at the point to know what was going on? Or did Henry hastily set up (perhaps at Lady Elisabeth’s insistence) to record a domestic scene that formed naturally? This print is in an album that Constance Talbot compiled and undoubtedly it was looked at often. As a consequence, it is faded, and I have digitally strengthened this reproduction so that you could enjoy it more. The ‘J Whatman 1841’ watermark is quite evident.
6 April 1842
Sharington’s Tower, Lacock Abbey
All of the images on this page have provable dates, recorded in Henry’s hand on the verso of the negatives in a spot conspicuous enough to show through on the final prints.
For the vast majority of Talbot’s photographs, the dating is not so straightforward. We would have to guess the approximate season by the bare trees but vigorous ivy. The more familiar views of the tower were published in The Pencil of Nature, but in those two variants, one or two ladders and open windows indicate maintenance activity by the staff. All is tranquil here.
7 April 1842
Nicolaas Henneman faces off with John Frederick Goddard over a game of chess
These two gentlemen have posed for us before in a photograph taken the day after this one. Goddard was a daguerreotype operator for Richard Beard and had greatly improved the sensitising process. A scientific colleague of Talbot, he visited Lacock Abbey with the intention of learning more about the calotype and perhaps in giving Talbot some chemical hints. With his phrenological-ready forehead, he also made a striking subject. Encouraged by the networks that her son was forming, but having no doubt about who was in charge, Lady Elisabeth recorded in her diary that “Mr Goddard came to learn about photography.”
8 April 1842
Lady Elisabeth Feilding, Henry’s mother
It is fitting that we end this week with Lady Elisabeth in front of the camera. A sewn-together set of bedsheets forms the background on the sunny lawn outside Lacock Abbey, perhaps in the Cloisters to avoid the wind and the gaze of too many curious passers by.
• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at firstname.lastname@example.org • WHFT, Patterned bolster, salted paper print from a calotype negative, 2 April 1841, National Science and Media Museum, Bradford, 1937-368/22; Schaaf 3813. • WHFT, Bridge over the River Avon,at Lacock, calotype negative, 3 April 1841, J. Paul Getty Museum, 84.XM.1002.7; Schaaf 2367. • WHFT, Bust of Patroclus, salted paper print from a calotype negative, 4 April 1841, NSMeM, 1937-368/15; Schaaf 1116. • WHFT, Eliza Frayland Holding Charles Henry Talbot, with Ela and Rosamond Talbot, salted paper print from a calotype negative, 5 April 1842, Talbot Personal Archive, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford; Schaaf 2636. • WHFT, Sharingtons Tower at Lacock Abbey, salted paper print from a calotype negative, 6 April 1842, Hans P. Kraus, Jr., New York; Schaaf 2238. • WHFT, Sharingtons Tower at Lacock Abbey, pencil inscription on verso of the calotype negative, 6 April 1842, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, 1995-206-7; Schaaf 2238. • WHFT, Nicolaas Henneman playing chess with John Frederick Goddard, at Lacock Abbey, salted paper print from a calotype negative, 7 April 1842, Fox Talbot Collection, the British Library, London, LA2161; Schaaf 2639. • WHFT, Lady Elisabeth Feilding, posed outside Lacock Abbey, salted paper print from a calotype negative, 8 April 1842, NSMeM, 1937-1484; Schaaf 2642.