The Watercolour Project

Project
One of the watercolours in the collection at Lacock Abbey

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.

In 1833, while visiting Lake Como in Italy following his recent marriage to Constance Mundy, 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.

This prompted him to dream up a new machine with light sensitive-paper that would make the sketches for him automatically.

" 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

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 ever since. 

Through this work, it was found that within the collection we held over 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, however they have recently been digitised thanks to a new partnership between the National Trust and the Watercolour World and can now be viewed online.

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

Inspiration for the first ever photographic negative

William Henry Fox Talbot famously created the first ever photographic negative at Lacock Abbey.

He is quoted as being so frustrated by his own artistic talents (compared to those of his family around him) that he decided that he would find another way to fix an image on paper.

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 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. 

Learn more about Lacock's history