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

Henry Fox TalbotApril 1844

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

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.


  • Title: [Nelson's Column under Construction in Trafalgar Square, London]
  • Creator: William Henry Fox Talbot
  • Date Created: April 1844
  • Location Created: London, England
  • Physical Dimensions: 17.1 × 21.1 cm (6 3/4 × 8 5/16 in.)
  • Type: Print
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Salted paper print from a paper negative
  • Terms of Use: Open Content
  • Number: 84.XM.478.19
  • Culture: British
  • Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Creator Display Name: William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800 - 1877)
  • Classification: Photographs (Visual Works)

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