William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 18001877)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 5 3/16 x 5 15/16 in. (13.2 x 15.1 cm)
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel and Harrison D. Horblit Gifts, 1988 (1988.1047)
Still-life painters frequently included cut crystal or glassware in their elaborate fruit or flower compositions (53.111), in part as a demonstration of virtuoso techniqueto paint a transparent object, visible only as reflected and refracted light, presents a special challenge and, if successful, brings particular delight to the viewer. Talbot, in plate 4 of The Pencil of Nature seems to say, "Look at what the new medium of photography can give younot just one crystal goblet, but shelves full of glass, as effortlessly as it records any other subject."
In the preceding plate, Articles of China, Talbot also speculated on a new use of photography: "the whole cabinet of a Virtuoso and collector of old China might be depicted on paper in little more time than it would take him to make a written inventory." Even more prophetically, he speculated that "should a thief afterwards purloin the treasuresif the mute testimony of the picture were to be produced against him in courtit would certainly be evidence of a novel kind; but what the judge and jury might say to it, is a matter which I leave to the speculation of those who possess legal acumen."