16
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘Early Photography in Imperial China’ at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 5th June – 23rd August 2015

 

For me, the standout photographs in this posting are Mee Cheung’s rhythmic Buddhist Monks in Chefoo and the work of Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz, especially the three photographs Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum, Portrait of a Chinese woman and Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting.

The latter three have a deceptively simple structure, delicate hand colouring, and a visual and metaphysical presence that is almost beyond description… as though you know the character and personality of these anonymous human beings through the rendition of their image. In a way they are humanist portraits presaging the tradition of the more scientific and archetypal portraits of August Sander.

You can see in the face of Admiral Ting that he is a prosperous and powerful man, you can see the individuality of each person in these images, the individualisation of these people, a tradition which is continued by today’s documentary photographers. But not generally by today’s art photographers looking at the portrait because, for them, the portrait is surface and detail – controlled by the photographer and not responsive to the subject.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Rijksmuseum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

A. Chan. 'Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton' c. 1870

 

A. Chan
Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton
c. 1870
Collectie Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

A. Chan. 'Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton' (detail) c. 1870

 

A. Chan
Sheung-mun-tai Street in Canton (detail)
c. 1870
Collectie Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Mee Cheung. 'Buddhist Monks in Chefoo' c. 1880-1890

 

Mee Cheung
Buddhist Monks in Chefoo
c. 1880-1890
Collection Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Mee Cheung. 'Buddhist Monks in Chefoo' (detail) c. 1880-1890

 

 

Mee Cheung
Buddhist Monks in Chefoo (detail)
c. 1880-1890
Collection Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Afong. 'Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai' c. 1875-1880

 

Afong
Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai
c. 1875-1880
Collections Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Afong. 'Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai' (detail) c. 1875-1880

 

Afong
Studio Portrait of Courtesans in Shanghai (detail)
c. 1875-1880
Collections Ferry Bertholet, Amsterdam

 

Afong. 'A Chinese Party Game' c. 1895

 

Afong
A Chinese Party Game
c. 1895
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

 

 

“Rare photos, photo albums and stereo photos from the collection of China expert Ferry Bertholet, enhanced with photographs from the Rijksmuseum’s collection, show 19th century unknown China at the time of the last emperors for the very first time. From 5 June to 23 August 2015 the Rijksmuseum is presenting Early Photography in Imperial China in it’s Photo Gallery.

In the 19th century Imperial China was almost entirely hidden away from the world until the last Emperor was deposed in 1912. Access was limited to port cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Canton, which were forced to be open to the West after 1842 so that Westerners could trade unimpeded. The advent of photography coincided with a rapidly growing interest in the unknown China. The photographs in the exhibition take the visitor into this exciting unknown world of ports, quays and rickshaws, but also of narrow crowded streets bustling with the multitude of shops and ‘tea houses’ and their hostesses.

The display includes important photographs by such as Felice Beato (his famous photograph of the Second Opium War 1857-1860) and the famous China photographer John Thomson. They were among the first Europeans able to record images of a country that – even at that time – was still barely accessible to the rest of the world. Furthermore, this is also the first time that the work of Chinese photographers such as Afong, Lan Wah and Sze Yuen Ming has ever been shown in the Netherlands. 
Other highlights of the exhibition include a rare Chinese family portrait from 1860 from the Bertholet collection of American photographer Milton Miller, as well as the coloured photos of ‘types of people’ by Baron Raimund Ratenitz von Stillfried.

Besides the 35 photos in the exhibition, a huge travel camera from that time is also on display, illustrating how awkward it was to photograph such material. There are also stereo photos in 3D, including a special shot of the city of Peking in 1860, and photo albums and amateur photos of travellers to China are also on display. A richly illustrated book was published recently: Ferry Bertholet & Lambert van der Aalsvoort, Among the Celestials. China in Early Photographs, Brussels 2014.”

Press release from the Rijksmuseum website

 

Anonymous. 'Peking' c. 1860 - c. 1930

 

Anonymous
Peking
c. 1860 – c. 1930

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Chinese carriers' c. 1861 - c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Chinese carriers
c. 1861 – c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum' 1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum
1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum' 1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum
1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum' (detail) 1875

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of two Chinese Buddhist monks with rosary, bell and slit drum (detail)
1875

 

attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of a Chinese woman' 1860 - 1870

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of a Chinese woman
1860 – 1870

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting' c. 1861 - c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting
c. 1861 – c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz. 'Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting' (detail) c. 1861 - c. 1880

 

Attributed to Baron Raimund von Stillfried und Ratenitz
Portrait of Chinese Admiral Ting (detail)
c. 1861 – c. 1880

 

Attributed to Jan Adriani. 'A street with several people in Kinkiang, China' 1907

 

Attributed to Jan Adriani
A street with several people in Kinkiang, China
1907

 

 

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Jan Luijkenstraat 1, Amsterdam

Opening hours:
Every day from 9:00 to 18:00

Rijksmuseum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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