Palace of the Duc de Montpensier Talbot, William Henry Fox  (British, 1800-1877)

This is the important first publication of an example of Talbot’s second patented method of intaglio etching and printing which planted the seed for what eventually became the commercially successful method of photogravure patented in 1879 by Karl Klic.

The great object… is to “ make Apollo his own engraver.” We merely see at present the commencement of a new art, the future of which it would be difficult to predict with any amount of certainty ; but there can be no doubt that its application will ultimately be great and varied. (Crookes)

While Talbot often seemed to be unlucky in matters of timing, the arrival of his second photogravure process could not have been better. William Crookes was resigning as Secretary of The Photographic Society, and wrote to Talbot, "I have been informed that you have recently made an important discovery in Photographic printing … I venture to write to you to offer my services. I intended to devote myself to the Subject of Photographic printing … as a matter of business." When Crookes started receiving samples from Talbot in September he was "quite astonished at their perfection and sharpness of detail. I have seen specimens of all the processes for effecting a similar thing, but never saw anything equal to these. The difficulty has been in the halftones but the beautiful pictures which I now have before me leave scarcely anything to be desired in that way." Shortly after this, Crookes became the founding editor of a journal, The Photographic News, and hoped to publish one of Talbot’s photoglyphs in the inaugural issue. Patent law complications prevented this. Talbot was also concerned about infringing on the original photographer’s rights, but soon wrote to Crookes, "Mess" Soulier & Clouzard of Paris have liberally given me permission to engrave and publish some of their photographic views – I shall therefore put the matter in hand immediately, and make some steel engravings which I will send you." The arrangements were soon complete, and the present image was published facing p. 105 in the 12 November 1858 issue. Each volume of this annual was issued with one of 7 half-stereo photoglyphic engravings by Talbot after Clouzard et Soulier positives, printed by Thomas Brooker, London. The subjects were: Bridge over the Moldau, Prague; Congress of Deputies, Madrid; Court of the Alhambra, Granada; Palace of the Duc de Montpensier, Seville; The New Louvre, Paris; The Institute of France; & The Gate of the Cathedral of San Gregorio Valladolid. MM.

With the present number of the “ Photographic News, 1 we present our readers with a specimen of Mr. Fox Talbot’s new process of photoglyphic engraving. We had originally intended to have printed all the specimens from the same plate, and thus to have given, with each copy of the “ News,” the same picture ; but several circumstances have induced us to deviate somewhat from our first intention — there being not only one, but a variety of specimens issued ; and although with each number of the “ Photographic News ” there is only one plate presented, should any of our wish to posses other subjects then they are given, they can be obtained by purchasing extra copies of this number, and specifying the plates he may wish to have. Various reasons have induced us to adopt this plan. First : Our circulation is so large that, -with one plate, it would have been very difficult to have got a sufficient number of speci- mens out in tune. Second : The present plan will, in our opinion, more fully attain the object we have in view — of giving the public some idea of the extent and variety of this new branch of art. Third : We are enabled to present more choice proofs than we could under other circumstances ; for it is evident, that when many thousands of copies are printed from the same plate, it gradually wears out — the last thousand prints being less sharp and delicate than the first. But by our present plan of having several specimens, we need only issue the earlier prints from each plate. The public, of course, do not expect specimens of an art only a few weeks old to be free from faults. They wish to see it in its present state, and by these specimens they will be better enabled to judge as to its future capabilities. With that object in view, we -wish now distinctly to state, that these specimens are entirely untouched , and are presented exactly in the state in which they were obtained by the process described in our seventh number.

In looking at an ordinary engraving it will be seen, that it must be viewed at some little distance in order to get the general effect of the whole — a close, or microscopic inspection, only showing a number of lines or dots. In photoglyphic engravings, however, we have breadth of effect at a distance; and besides that, by close examination with a magnifying glass, they appear actually more wonderful, as we thus view, instead of crude lines or dots, so astonishing an amount of detail, that nothing less than a personal inspection will enable any one fully to appreciate it. It will be also seen, that there is a beautiful gradation of distance — the middle or half-tints being, at the same time, very distinct ; this (the production of a perfect half-tone) being the point upon which all other similar processes have failed.

The Photoglyphic Engravings were executed by William Henry Fox Talbot and Mr. Brooker, of Margaret-street, Cavendish-square, printed the plates. On page 109 is found the article explaining why 7 separate subjects were used and some general information on the plates.

There is some disagreement among historians regarding just when the newly discovered ‘acierge’ (steel facing) process was used for the Photographic Times Talbot plates. Originally it was believed that small tick marks in the corner of each small plate represented that when the plates wore out, they were replaced by new plates of the same image. David Hanson, however, digitally aligning prints with consecutive tic marks, confirmed that they line up perfectly thereby proving the marks were added to the same plate sequentially. Indeed the 1858 plates were not replaced with new plates as the wore out. The tic marks could have represented every hundred prints mate to track ware, or possibly every time they were re-steel faced (if they were steel faced).

A larger print of the Tuilleries was included in the issue of 16 September 1859.

The brilliant success which has attended the endeavors of our distinguished countryman, Mr. H. Fox Talbot, to solve the problem of the conversion of photographic pictures into engraved plates, makes the present time a new epoch in the history of the art. William Crookes

References

Schaaf, Larry J, and Talbot. Sun Pictures, Talbot and Photogravure: Text by Larry Schaaf, Catalogue Twelve, the Exhibition Will Be on View at Hans P. Krauss, Jr., Inc. October 9 – November 21, 2003. New York: Hans P. Kraus, Jr., Inc, 2003 p. 40

For correspondence between Talbot and Crookes see the "Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot" Web site (De Montfort University, Leicester/University of Glasgow), (consulted Oct. 18, 2011), especially Crookes to Talbot, Sept. 17, Oct. 29 and Nov. 26, 1858; Talbot to Crookes, Oct. 23, 1858.