The work, “Leaf,” to be sold at Sotheby’s on April 7, is a photogenic drawing — a cameraless process in which an object is placed on silver nitrate-coated paper or leather to form a negative image.
It had previously been attributed to William Henry Fox Talbot, considered the father of photography along with Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. It was thought to have been made in 1839 at what is widely accepted as the dawn of photography.
But Sotheby’s says research by a leading photo expert suggests otherwise — that several early photo experimenters could be the authors, including Thomas Wedgwood, James Watt and Humphry Davy, who worked in the medium decades earlier. If that theory is true, it means the photo could have been made as early as 1790.
What it will fetch at auction is anyone’s guess, said Denise Bethel, Sotheby’s director of photography.