Art Fund gives to Bodleian's Talbot Appeal and inspires deposit of important Talbot images

31 July 2013 

A-peony-leaf-above-leaves-of-a-species-of-chestnutThe Bodleian Libraries have secured a further significant gift towards the acquisition of the Personal Archive of William Henry Fox Talbot.  The latest major donation comes from the Art Fund in the amount of £200,000.  

The Bodleian’s appeal was launched in December 2012 with an initial deadline of the end of February 2013 to raise £2.2 million pounds needed for purchasing the Archive. A significant grant of £1.2 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) late last year gave the appeal a vital boost. Thanks to the most recent gift from the Art Fund along with donations from numerous other private individuals and charitable trusts, the Bodleian has managed to secure almost £1.9 million towards the purchase of the Archive. 

The Bodleian has successfully negotiated an extension to the fundraising deadline and must raise the remaining £375,000 needed to fully fund the acquisition by August 2014.

The Bodleian continues to seek and welcomes any further contributions to help acquire the only significant Talbot collection remaining in private hands. 

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said:  ‘We are delighted to be supporting the Bodleian Libraries’ aim to acquire a major archive of works by British inventor and photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. This collection of material is of unparalleled importance in shedding light on both his life and his pioneering work. I urge everyone to support the final stage of the Bodleian's appeal.’

Richard Ovenden, Deputy to Bodley’s Librarian said: ‘We are extremely grateful for all donations which we have received so far, from the grants awarded by the Art Fund and the NHMF to all the individual donations. Every single one of them brings us closer to reaching our target of £2.25 million needed to acquire the Talbot archive which is an essential resource for scholars on the history of photography, the history of science, and a range of other disciplines.’ 

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 great potential for fuller 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 that are so central to Talbot’s work, and their roles as practitioners, supporters, and collectors of the new art.    

Photogenic-Drawing-Negative-of-a-Tiger-from-the-engraving-by-Thomas-BewickAmongst the recipients of examples of Talbot’s earliest photographs were his aunt, Lady Mary Cole and his cousins, who lived at Penrice, near Swansea. Emma, the youngest of the cousins, was married to another of the South Wales gentry, John Dillwyn Llewelyn, and Talbot’s photographs quickly made their way to Penllergare, the home of the Dillwyn Llewelyns. Inspired by Talbot’s invention, Llewelyn became an early practitioner of the art of photography. 

After hearing about the Bodleian’s campaign, Noel Chanan, biographer of John Dillwyn Llewelyn, was approached by Sir John Venables-Llewelyn, great-great grandson of the photographer, with a view to offering to place a previously unknown collection of forty-two early photogenic drawings by Talbot on deposit at the Bodleian, to supplement the Talbot Archive. These precious and fragile photographs, most of which are annotated by Talbot, depict mostly botanical specimens, as well as places including the cloister and the gothic gateway at Lacock Abbey, Oxford’s Botanical Gardens, and the Tower of Magdalen College.  Other subjects include fragments of lace, a breakfast table, a tiger from a Bewick engraving, the Great Seal of England, and a facsimile of an old printed page. 

Thus the fundraising campaign has also been immediately successful in raising the profile of the Talbot Archive.  

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 family 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.  

The Bodleian Libraries have now until August 2014 to raise the remaining funds. A series of public events is planned 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.

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