The J. Paul Getty Museum

[Nelson's Column under Construction in Trafalgar Square, London]

Object Details


[Nelson's Column under Construction in Trafalgar Square, London]


William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800 - 1877)




London, England (Place Created)


April 1844


Salted paper print from a paper negative

Object Number:



17.1 × 21.1 cm (6 3/4 × 8 5/16 in.)

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Object Description

Surprised by discovering a clock face in one of his photographs of Oxford, William Henry Fox Talbot observed in his 1844-46 illustrated treatise on photography, The Pencil of Nature, that

“in examining photographic pictures of a certain degree of perfection, the use of a large lens is recommended, such as elderly persons frequently employ in reading. This magnifies the objects two or three times, and often discloses a multitude of minute details, which were previously unobserved and unsuspected. It frequently happens, moreover—and this is one of the charms of photography—that the operator himself discovers on examination, perhaps long afterwards, that he has depicted many things he had no notion of at the time. Sometimes inscriptions and dates are found upon the buildings, or printed placards most irrelevant, are discovered upon their walls.”

It is the printed placards secured to the wood fencing surrounding the monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died during his great victory at Trafalgar, that enable us to date this image precisely. Among the various playbills and railway holiday timetables is an advertisement for the Theater Royal Lyceum. Having rescued its name for its creditors, it was opening its new season with Open Sesame on Easter Monday, April 8, 1844. Talbot was in London the week before meeting with a colleague, the daguerreotypist Antoine Claudet, and he must have taken this photograph during that period.

Larry Schaaf, William Henry Fox Talbot, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2002), 82. ©2002 J. Paul Getty Trust.

- 1974

Graphics International, American, , sold to Samuel Wagstaff, Jr., 1974.

1974 - 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
Voyages and Visions: Early Photographs from the Wilson Family Collection (October 24, 2000 to February 18, 2001)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 24, 2000 to February 18, 2001
A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography (February 4 to June 8, 2014)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 4 to June 8, 2014

Corcoran Gallery of Art. A Book of Photographs from the Collection of Sam Wagstaff. (New York: Gray Press, 1978), p. 30.

Buckland, Gail. Fox Talbot and the Invention of Photography (Boston: D.R. Godine, 1980), p. 100.

Ward, John and Sara Stevenson. Printed Light: The Scientific Art of William Henry Fox Talbot and David Octavius Hill, with Robert Adamson (Edinburgh: H.M.S.O.: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1986), p. 107.

Schaaf, Larry John. Out of the Shadows: Herschel, Talbot & the Invention of Photography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 85.

Baldwin, Gordon, et. al. Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Photographs (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1999), p.8-9, no. 1, ill.

Schaaf, Larry J. William Henry Fox Talbot. In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), p. 82, pl. 39.