The J. Paul Getty Museum

[The Roofline of Lacock Abbey]

Object Details


[The Roofline of Lacock Abbey]


William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800 - 1877)




Lacock, Wiltshire, England (Place Created)


probably 1835–1839


Salt-fixed photogenic drawing negative

Object Number:



11.1 × 11.7 cm (4 3/8 × 4 5/8 in.)

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Object Description

In Some Account of the Art of Photogenic Drawing (1839), William Henry Fox Talbot wrote that “perhaps the most curious application of this art is . . . that which has appeared the most surprising to those who have examined my collection of pictures formed by solar light”: the capture of “the vivid picture of external nature” displayed in the camera obscura. He had at first tried a box of conventional size, large enough to hold a sheet of sketching paper, but “a little experience in this branch of art showed me that with smaller camera obscuræ the effect would be produced in a smaller time. Accordingly I had several small boxes made, in which I fixed lenses of shorter focus, & with these I obtained very perfect but extremely small pictures; such as without great stretch of imagination might be supposed to be the work of some Lilliputian artist. They require indeed examination with a lens to discover all their minutiæ.”

These pioneering photographic cameras were hardly more than crudely built wooden boxes, about the size of an apple. But magic emerged from these little contraptions. At the time unaware of the early work of Joseph-Nicéphore Niépce, the French physicist who created a photograph of his home in 1827, Talbot boasted: “I made in this way a great number of representations of my house in the country, which is well suited to the purpose, from its ancient & remarkable architecture. And this building I believe to be the first that was ever yet known to have drawn its own picture.”

Larry Schaaf, William Henry Fox Talbot, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2002), 14. ©2002 J. Paul Getty Trust.

- 1977

Private Collection [sold, Sotheby's Parke Bernet, New York,October 4, 1977, lot 149, to Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr.]

1977 - 1984

Samuel Wagstaff, Jr., American, 1921 - 1987, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1984.

Experimental Photography: Discovery and Invention (January 17 to April 2, 1989)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), January 17 to April 2, 1989

Naef, Weston J. The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), p. 10, ill., no. 8.

Lowry, Bates, and Isabael Barrett Lowry. The Silver Canvas : Daguerreotype Masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum, exh. cat. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1998), p. 17, fig. 10.

Schaaf, Larry J. William Henry Fox Talbot. In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), p. 14, pl. 2.

Brunet, François. The Birth of the Idea of Photography, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Toronto: Ryerson Image Centre, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019), p. 65.