The Fox Talbot Museum is a celebration of the life and work of William Henry Fox Talbot. His birth was in 1800 and lived until 1877 He was the owner and resident of Lacock Abbey.
As a gentleman of considerable means and social standing, he kept detailed notes of his endeavours in the study of the arts and sciences. His experiments in the mid 1830s led him to the discovery of the negative/positive photographic process.
The idea came to Fox Talbot while spending a holiday at Lake Como in Italy, using the camera obscura(1) and camera lucida(2) as aids to drawing.
He began in 1834, experimenting with a process which he called 'photogenic drawing'. This involved coating drawing paper with a salt solution and after drying, adding a solution of silver nitrate. By placing a fern, leaf, or piece of lace, on the paper's surface and exposing it to the sun, he obtained an image.
In August 1835, Fox Talbot made the earliest known surviving photographic negative using a camera, a small photogenic drawing of the oriel window in the south gallery of Lacock Abbey. This item is now in the Science Museum at the National Media Museum at Bradford.
One of the first official announcements of the birth of photography was when Talbot's findings were read to a meeting of the Royal Society on 31st January 1839.
His continuing experiments led to a breakthrough when he discovered that paper treated with a coating of silver iodide, exposed in camera, and developed in gallic acid mixed with silver nitrate and acetic acid would bring out a latent image. On 23rd September 1840, filled with elation and wonder he watched a picture slowly appearing on a plain sheet of paper. Talbot named this new process the Calotype, from the Greek word 'Kalos' which means beautiful.
Fox Talbot's wide use of photography, creating portraits, landscapes, architectural and still life studies, defined the art of photography. Examples of all these types of photographs and an explanation of the uses of each appear in his publication 'The Pencil of Nature'. Published between 1844 and 1847, it was the first book to be illustrated entirely by photographs.
His interests were not confined to photography and, after showing his academic brilliance at an early age, he continued throughout his life, to study various subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, classics, philosophy, botany, Assyriology(3) and archaeology.
The collection has now moved to the British Library.
March to October:
Daily 11am to 5pm
November to December (up to and including last weekend before Christmas):
Saturday and Sunday 11am to 4pm
Closed: Good Friday
(1) Camera obscura -
(2) Camera lucida -
Artist's aid to drawing and painting, modern version for sale
(3) Assyriology -
Antiquities from the
The oriel window at Lacock Abbey. The earliest surviving paper negative photograph. 1835
The oriel window of Lacock Abbey. In positive. 1835
William Henry Fox Talbot. By John Moffat 1864
A so called “Photogenic Drawing”,a preliminary stage of early photographs. 1844.
Henry William Fox Talbot’s ‘Articles of China’. 1844.
Lacock Abbey, Coordinates