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The Pencil of Nature

Artist:
William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800–1877 Lacock)
Date:
1844–46
Medium:
Salted paper prints from paper negatives
Dimensions:
15.2 x 20.3 cm (6 x 8 in.)
Classification:
Books
Credit Line:
Gift of Jean Horblit, in memory of Harrison D. Horblit, 1994
Accession Number:
1994.197.1–.6
Not on view
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.
Talbot to his daughter, Matilda, to her daughter, Constance Stewart; Stewart family, until 1984; (Christie's South Kensington, October 1984); Harrison D. Horblit, Ridgefield, Connecticut; Jean Horblit, by descent

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 10," August 28, 1995–November 13, 1995.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840–1940," June 3, 2008–September 1, 2008.

"Complete in original wrappers; 3-line Notice in No. 2 and a 5-line Notice in No. 6; bindings recently restored. The nucleus of this copy was sold at Christie's South Kensington in October 1984 as Nos. 1 - 5 plus the plates for 6. Plates XIV and XV in that copy were sold unmounted and are now on modern mounts. This copy passed from Talbot's daughter Tilly (Matilda, later Gilchrist Clark, 1839-1927) to her daughter, Constance Stewart (1863-1944), Miss Matilda Talbot's sister. It remained in the Stewart family until the 1984 sale. Completed with a No. 6 from another source (the wrapper of which has been re-numbered from a No. 4). The wrapper of No. 5 is a rare example from the original red lithographic stone. Plates I, VIII, XX, XII, and XXIV are numbered in pencil, and plates VII and XXIII have no number."

The Pencil of Nature was issued in six parts:

No. 1 issued 24 June 1844

No. 2 issued 29 January 1845

No. 3 issued 14/29 May 1845

No. 4 issued 21 June 1845

No. 5 issued 13/22 December 1845

No. 6 issued before 23 April 1846

Larry J. Schaaf "Henry Fox Talbot's 'The Pencil of Nature': A revised Census of Original Copies, History of Photography, Winter 1993 (17:4), pp. 388-389
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