Bodleian Libraries secures final funding to acquire Fox Talbot Archive

6 October 2014

William Henry Fox Talbot imageThe Bodleian Libraries have secured the final funds needed to acquire the Personal Archive of William Henry Fox Talbot. The final funds come via a legacy donation to the Libraries.  

The Bodleian's appeal to acquire the Fox Talbot Archive was launched two years ago in late 2012 with an aim to raise the £2.25 million needed to purchase the Archive. A significant grant of £1.2 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) in December 2012 gave the appeal a vital boost with further gifts from the Art Fund along with donations from numerous other private individuals and charitable trusts helping to increase the tally to £1.9 million. The recent legacy donation has allowed the Bodleian Libraries to now reach its target of £2.25 million.  

The campaign to raise funds has been widely supported by many well-known names across a variety of disciplines for which the Talbot archive has particular significance. These include: photographers Martin Parr and Hiroshi Sugimoto, artist David Hockney; Director-General of The Royal Photographic Society, Michael Pritchard; scientists Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society; Sir Michael Berry, FRS, Melville Wills Professor of Physics, (Emeritus), University of Bristol; and historians Colin Ford, CBE, Founding Head, National Media Museum and Professor Martin J Kemp, FBA Emeritus Research Professor of the History of Art, University of Oxford.  

Announcing the news on Sunday 5 October at the Photography Oxford Festival 2014, Richard Ovenden, Bodley's Librarian said: 'We are so pleased to have reached our fundraising target and are at last able to secure the Fox Talbot archive. We are extremely grateful for all the donations we received, from the grants awarded by the Art Fund and the NHMF to all the individual donations and for the unwavering support we've had in our campaign. We look forward to making this fascinating and important resource available to scholars, students and the photographic community.'

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) was one of the greatest polymaths of the Victorian age, and is most famous today for being the British 'founder of photography'. The Archive contains enormous potential for greater understanding of the breadth of Talbot's scholarly activities, and of the influences exerted by the women in his family, in particular their educative roles, their shared interests in botany, languages, art, travel and history which are so central to Talbotís work, and their roles as practitioners, supporters, and collectors of the new art.  

The Talbot Archive also includes artefacts such as glassware and artworks that Talbot photographed for the ground-breaking publication The Pencil of Nature, the first book illustrated with photographs. There is a strong connection to Oxford as the Archive includes some of the first pictures of the city.

Alongside items related to his pioneering work in photography, the Archive also sheds valuable light on his personal life, his role managing his estate at Lacock, his life as a Member of Parliament, and his range of intellectual interests from science to ancient languages.

Having now acquired the Archive the Bodleian Libraries plan to run a series of public events to support access to the Archive, including a major exhibition in 2017. Highlights from the Archive will also feature in the opening exhibition for the Weston Library and in a number of smaller displays.

Pen and ink with watercoloursThe Talbot Archive will also provide rich material for a related project based at the Bodleian Libraries, the development of a Catalogue Raisonné of Fox Talbot's photographic work. The Bodleian recently appointed Professor Larry J Schaaf as Project Director for the Catalogue. The goal is to make more than four decades of Schaaf's research available to a wider public audience through an online resource, and to invite scholars from a range of fields to add to the catalogue by contributing their knowledge and research related to Talbot's life and work.

Schaaf is also the founder and Editor of The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot which includes fully annotated transcriptions of more than 10,000 of Talbotís letters.

Credit for all images: Fox Talbot Archive, courtesy of Hans P. Kraus Jr.

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