History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search

Record Details

Photograph (Experimental Photogenic Drawing) of an Oak Leaf, by Sir John Herschel, February 26, 1839

preview image for Photograph (Experimental Photogenic Drawing) of an Oak Leaf, by Sir John Herschel, February 26, 1839
Inventory Number: 60339
Object Type:
Persons: Sir John Frederick William Herschel (Photographer)
Date Created: 1839
Accession Number: 1928-71
Brief Description: Experimental photogenic drawing of an oak leaf by Sir John Herschel, February 26, 1839, made as a hypo fixing experiment during the earliest phase of his photographic researches. It is one of the few experiments in which Herschel departed from his practice of copying engravings, and the only example of his use of a leaf. Except that other experimenters commonly did so, Herschel's reason for using a leaf, uniquely on this occasion, is unknown, as is the meaning of the letter (a capital T) marked on it. This was one of the Herschel experimental photographs extracted from the collection for display in the Museum (the other one displayed was a cyanotype 58467); it has faded and lost contrast and colour as a result of being displayed for many years, a black-and-white photograph taken in 1933 showing a bolder image. Yet in spite of the over-all faded appearance, the cellular structure of the leaf remains clear.

Subject: oak leaf marked with the letter T [in Herschel's writing]
Technique: contact copy of actual object
Format: vertical, unusually narrow
Polarity: negative
Orientation: laterally reversed
Quality: clear detail but faded
Colour: buff to pale sepia, darkest at edges, light highlights, back plain
Chemistry: silver based, hypo fixed
Coating: none
Inscription: signature, date, chemical note
Paper: normal
Condition: good but faded
Purpose: a hypo fixing experiment, and uniquely among Herschel's surviving experiments a trial with contact copying a real leaf.

For fuller descriptive and historical commentary see narratives.
Primary Inscriptions: 'JFWH | Feb 26/39 | HS. Sod' [hyposulphite of soda; in Herschel's hand; the initials and chemical abbreviation have been written at a slightly different time from the date].
Provenance: Presented by Miss Herschel and Lady Lubbock in 1928. They were the two surviving and youngest children of Sir John Herschel (Francisca and Constance).
Collection Group: Herschel's Photographic Experiments
Material(s): Paper
Height Width Depth Diameter Unit
131 66 mm


Image with multimedia irn 18436Image with multimedia irn 53691

Permalink: http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/object/inv/60339