Almost 200 images by one of history’s first photographers, William Henry Fox Talbot, are going under the hammer in New York next month, offering collectors a rare glimpse at early Victorian Britain.
According to Sotheby’s auction house, which is handling the sale, the collection is “arguably the most important lot of 19th-century photographs to ever come to market.”
The images depict indoor and outdoor scenes, spanning architecture, botany and daily life in the 1840s. Talbot, an English scientist and inventor, also produced various portraits of family members and friends as he experimented with his pioneering camera technology.
Offered at auction as a single lot, the collection comprises over 70 loose photographs and three albums of printed images. It also includes rare versions of Talbot’s publication “Sun Pictures in Scotland”, which documents his travels through Scotland, as well as several parts of his celebrated work “The Pencil of Nature.”
Some of the photographer’s best-known images are among the 191 up for sale, including a shot showing the now-famous London monument, Nelson’s Column, under construction in 1844. According to the head of Sotheby’s photography department, Emily Bierman, the collection’s value lies not simply in its age and condition but in its variety and completeness.
“Over the years, these photographs have become harder and harder to find because they are snapped up and are in private or institutional collections,” Bierman said in a phone interview. “To have an entire collection, an archive … is something you couldn’t even dream up.
“The photos include a great mixture of personal studies, as well as images from his travels and of important monuments … though some of the greatest surprises are the portraits,” she added, referencing rare images of Talbot’s mother and the celebrated writer Thomas Moore.