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Carnegie Museum of Art acquires important photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot
Portrait of Venus, early 1840s. Salt print from a calotype negative, 3 7/8 × 3 in. (9.9 × 7.5 cm). Carnegie Museum of Art, Gift of William T. Hillman, 2017.30.1.


PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art announced the acquisition of five photographs from the dawn of the medium. These images were created by William Henry Fox Talbot, and join an exhibition of this pioneering inventor’s work, opening November 18.

Talbot made many photographs of lace because its delicate, geometric patterns highlighted the potential of this new medium to faithfully reproduce complex designs. Though his interest here lies in the documentary possibilities of photography, Talbot also understood its potential to beautifully frame and describe lace’s intricate detail. Photographs like these would help revolutionize and industrialize the lace-making trade.

The desire to order and structure our environment is a deep-seated human instinct. Talbot’s balanced, pleasingly composed arrangement speaks to this. He also recognized a new, evidentiary function of photography, “And should a thief afterwards purloin the treasures—if the mute testimony of the picture were to be produced against him in court—it would certainly be evidence of a novel kind.” Insurance claims were made eminently easier with Talbot’s invention.

Featuring more than 30 works by William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800–1877) and his circle from its own collection and from important public and private lenders, CMOA will present the largest US exhibition of Talbot’s photography in the last 15 years. A true “gentleman scientist” of the Victorian period, Talbot combined his knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, and optics, with his interest in art, botany, classics, and foreign languages to invent the paper-based photography that dominated the field for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. His innovations eclipsed the more laborious daguerreotype, which was printed on metal plates. In 1839, Talbot also invented the negative-positive process, allowing for practical mass-reproduction of photographs. Due to the fragile nature of the photographs, exhibitions of Talbot’s work are rare. This represents the first time ever that any will be on view in Pittsburgh.





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