The William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné
A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all known artworks by an artist either in a particular medium or all media. While the full extent of William Henry Fox Talbot's efforts in photography has yet to be defined, his output in the first years of photography was prodigious. Talbot also worked closely with several people and much of this work has become intermixed over the years.
Thus, while many photographs in the Catalogue are known to have been taken by Talbot himself, by necessity, the photographic work of others is contained within the Catalogue as well. Some printing was done by his family and other members of the Lacock Abbey household. Talbot's one-time valet, Nicolaas Henneman, worked very closely with him during the early days of photography and it is often impossible to separate who did what. In 1843, Henneman left Talbot's service and set up a photographic works in Reading, England. (this 'Reading Establishment' is often mistakenly thought to have been Talbot's own business).
While at Reading, Henneman used the same techniques and materials that had been used at Lacock Abbey and even employed and photographed some of the members of staff at Lacock. In addition to creating new material, he printed negatives for Talbot and others. When Henneman relocated to London in 1847, Talbot loaned him further negatives to print. Throughout this period, Talbot bought negatives from other photographers, sometimes work done to commission and sometimes existing negatives. When Henneman closed his London operation in the early 1850s, he returned negatives and surplus prints to Talbot. In settlement of some debts, he also sent Talbot numerous other photographs that were the product of his own studio. These all became intermixed in the Lacock Abbey collections and their origins were generally forgotten. In fact, some of Henneman's parcels were not opened until the 1960s.
Most collections of Talbot material worldwide were derived from the Lacock Abbey collection, sometimes through purchase, often through the generous gifts of the family. Understandably, these 'Talbot' collections often contained the works not only of Talbot, but that of Henneman and others as well. In many cases they have become known as Talbot's own photographs. Some of this material is easily identified on stylistic grounds or because of contemporaneous documents. A common example is the work of the Reverend Calvert Richard Jones, a friend from whom Talbot purchased many negatives. The specific author (or authors) of some 'Talbot' photographs may never be established with certainty, especially those by Henneman in his days at Lacock Abbey. However, the developing analysis of Talbot's documentation, including his correspondence and his diaries, is beginning to yield further clues to identification.
The Catalogue Raisonné database presently contains item-level entries on more than 25,000 negatives and prints in collections worldwide. Each item in this catalogue is identified by a range of information, including historic and traditional titles, associations with Talbot's texts and correspondence, physical characteristics such as size and watermarks, and collection information such as institutional numbers and provenance. Each unique Talbot image is classified with an arbitrary but unique 'Schaaf number' - thus, a negative and all the prints made from it, regardless of where they are now held, are tied together by this same number, facilitating cross-referencing and comparison of scattered negatives and prints.
The Catalogue Raisonné of the photographs taken by Talbot and his circle is the culmination of four decades of examination of Talbot originals worldwide by Professor Larry Schaaf. Further information can be found at http://foxtalbot.bodleian.ox.ac.uk.
Professor Larry J Schaaf is the Director of the Catalogue Raisonné, as well as being founder and Editor of the Correspondence Project. Please feel free to contact him directly about either project.
William Henry Fox Talbot Catalogue Raisonné