The Tomb of Sir Walter Scott, in Dryburgh Abbey

Artist: William Henry Fox Talbot (British, Dorset 1800–1877 Lacock)

Date: 1844

Medium: Salted paper print from paper negative

Dimensions: 16.8 x 17.9 cm (6 5/8 x 7 1/16 in. )

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace and Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gifts, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.382.4


Talbot's second photographically illustrated book, entitled Sun Pictures in Scotland and published in 1845 with no text other than a list of plates, transported the reader via photography to sites significant to the life and writings of Sir Walter Scott. Among the images included was The Tomb of Sir Walter Scott, in Dryburgh Abbey, a romantic expression perfectly suited to the writer. The tomb is embedded in the shadows of the Gothic ruin, itself nestled among the trees that grow where columns of the transept once rose, the whole scene in turn subsumed in the deep, rich tones of the calotype. Copies of this image in Sun Pictures, like many plates in The Pencil of Nature, faded dramatically from their original dark chocolate brown even in Talbot's time, due to impurities in the printing establishment's water supply, to the printer having inadequately washed out the hypo fixer, and to the publishers having trimmed and affixed them to bristol, which left them more vulnerable to oxidation and exposed them to chemicals in the mounting glue. The example shown here-never trimmed, mounted, or distributed-is extraordinary in its rich tonalities and exquisite state of preservation.