Artist: William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800–1877 Lacock)
Date: before June 1844
Medium: Salted paper print from paper negative
Dimensions: 13.2 x 15.1 cm. (5 3/16 x 5 15/16 in.)
Credit Line: Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift through Joyce and Robert Menschel and Harrison D. Horblit Gift, 1988
Accession Number: 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 technique-to 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 you-not 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 treasures-if the mute testimony of the picture were to be produced against him in court-it 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."