The Watercolour Project

One of the watercolours in the collection at Lacock Abbey

In 1833, while visiting Lake Como in Italy following his recent marriage to Constance Mundy, William Henry Fox Talbot found himself in the frustrating position of being the only one in the group unable to sketch the scenery, even with the help of a camera lucida.

" When the eye was removed from the prism – in which all had looked beautiful – I found that the faithless pencil had only left traces on the paper melancholy to behold."
- William Henry Fox Talbot

This frustration with his own artistic talents spurred his scientific endeavours to find another way to fix an image on paper. In 1835, he created the first ever photographic negative at Lacock Abbey, laying the foundation stone for the modern photographic era.

An early photograph of William Henry Fox Talbot
Early photograph of William Henry Fox Talbot who owned Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire
An early photograph of William Henry Fox Talbot

The Lacock Abbey collection

When the Lacock Abbey collection came into the ownership of the National Trust at the end of 2009, it comprised over 15,000 items.

At the time the collection was acquired, its full extent was largely unknown. Since then the property team have been gradually cataloguing items and developing a plan to deal with the huge conservation backlog. 

Through this work, it was found that we held more than 2,000 watercolours, painted largely by William Henry Fox Talbot’s wife and children.

The paintings are sensitive to light, so have been kept in storage; but can be viewed online thanks to a partnership between the National Trust and the Watercolour World. 

One of the watercolours in the Lacock Abbey collection
One of the watercolours in the Lacock Abbey collection
One of the watercolours in the Lacock Abbey collection

The paintings themselves are of extremely high quality and alongside the many letters that the family wrote to one another, are a wonderful insight into the life and times of the family and their travels abroad – as well as a reminder that without Fox Talbot's genius, such images would be the only way to record our own lives.

View the watercolours online

For the first time you can now see the watercolours painted by Henry Fox Talbot's family. Thanks to a new partnership with Watercolour World they are now available online.

Learn more about Lacock's history