Art/ Collection/ Art Object

[Chicken Feathers]

Nevil Story Maskelyne (British, 1823–1911)
ca. 1840
Photogenic drawing negative
Image: 7 5/16 × 7 5/8 in. (18.6 × 19.3 cm), irregularly trimmed
Credit Line:
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and Anonymous Gifts, 1997
Accession Number:
Not on view
Talbot's first successes were made by placing a pressed botanical specimen directly on a piece of photosensitized paper, covering it with a sheet of glass, and setting it in the sun. Wherever the light struck, the paper darkened; wherever the plant blocked the light it remained white. He called his new discovery "the art of photogenic drawing."
Nevil Story-Maskelyne, a teenager home from school during the summer of 1840, saw a demonstration of Talbot's process and tried his hand at the new art. This arrangement of chicken feathers is among his earliest pieces, and, as with Talbot's botanicals, the medium's capacity to record the soft texture of down, the detail of individual barbs, and the barred pattern of the feathers must have seemed an astonishing rendering of natural forms.
Inscription: No inscriptions or annotations.
Basset Down House, Wiltshire (the artist's home); (Christie's, South Kensington, June 18, 1981, lot 295); [Sean Thackrey]; Rubel Collection; [Hans P. Kraus, Jr.]

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Inventing a New Art: Early Photographs from the Rubel Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 1, 1999–September 19, 1999.

Oxford Rebels, The Life and Friends of Nevil Story Maskelyn 1823-1911, Pioneer Oxford Scientist, Photographer, and Politician. Gloucester, 1987. p. 12.

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