Bodleian Library wins £1.2 million for personal archive of William Henry Fox Talbot

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 January 2013
A photo of a section of mauve-coloured paper with words faintly scribbled on in white
William Henry Fox Talbot, copy of manuscript poem:  Remember the Glories of Brian the Brave. Photogencie drawing negative, salt fixed© Fox Talbot Archive, courtesy Hans P. Kraus Jr

The earliest photo taken by a woman, shots by some of the earliest photographic pioneers and the family diaries of William Henry Fox Talbot, the Victorian polymath thought to be the founder of British photography, could be acquired by the Bodleian Library after it won £1.2 million towards buying his personal archive.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund award, backing a campaign to secure the only major privately-owned collection relating to Talbot, has its sights on original family drawings and watercolours albums, hundreds of photos sent to Talbot by photographers across Europe, musical scores and scientific instruments and specimens.

It also contains glassware, artworks made for The Pencil of Nature, the first book illustrated by photographs, and some of the first pictures ever taken of Oxford. Fundraisers now need to earn a further £1 million to meet the £2.2 million asking price by the end of February.

“The archive is an essential resource for scholars on the history of photography, the history of science, and a range of other disciplines,” said Deputy Librarian Richard Ovenden.

“The Bodleian is anxious to ensure that the collection is made available to allow the legacy of this extraordinary innovator and pioneer in photography to continue to inspire new generations of researchers, innovators and photographers.”

An image by Talbot’s wife, produced around 170 years ago, is thought to be the earliest picture taken by a woman.

Botanical albums and items reflecting Talbot’s role as an MP, powerful academic and manager of the Lacock estate in Wiltshire also make up the wide-ranging collection.

A series of events are already being planned to allow public access to the archive, including a major exhibition in 2017.
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