A collection of images by William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of photography, has been placed on long-term loan at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford following their sale earlier this year to a private collector.
The collection of about 190 images – many of which are unique and have never been accessible to the public before – was given by Talbot to his half-sister Horatia Gaisford. After her death in 1851, the collection remained in family ownership for 170 years until April, when they were sold to a private collector for $1.95m at auction at Sotheby’s in New York.
As part of the long-term loan agreement, the collection will be digitised through Digital Bodleian and incorporated into its William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné, an online exhibition of the photographic works by the Victorian photographer.
Bodleian’s existing Talbot collection includes copies of the earliest photobooks: The Pencil of Nature, (1844–46), and Sun Pictures in Scotland (1845).
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to preserve and make available the Gaisford-St. Lawrence Collection of photography by William Henry Fox Talbot,” said Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries.
“Talbot was one of the world’s greatest innovators, and this collection shines new light on his life and work. We are especially excited to be able to digitise and add the images to our online Catalogue Raisonne. We would like to express our great thanks to the new owner for entrusting this collection to our care.”
The images will also form part of a major future exhibition at the libraries, curated by Geoffrey Batchen, Oxford University’s Professor of the History of Art, a leading authority on early photography.
“Collectively [these photographs] represent a wonderful cross-section of Talbot’s work, including many personal images of family and friends,” said Batchen. “The portraits, in particular, are a revelation. It seems particularly fitting that the library will now be able to tell the story of how photographs came to be presented in book and album form, always a key aspiration of Talbot’s.”
The collection comprises three albums and a cache of loose prints, many of which the library says are in “marvellous condition”. Highlights include some of Talbot’s early experiments with the chemistry and the optics of photography, including contact prints and images made with a camera.
Talbot’s half-sister Horatia married Thomas Gaisford, the son of the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and many of the images in the collection are of Oxford scenes, including colleges and the Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library. The collection also includes an album of Horatia’s sketches and watercolour paintings, and a folio of songs based on poems that she composed.