Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Musings on Early China Photography I - Beijing to Get a John Thomson Exhibition

Excellent to see that the Beijing World Art Museum is to host the Wellcome Collection’s extensive collection of John Thomson’s (self-portrait left) nineteenth century photographs of China – even though in their advertising the Beijing World Art Museum has managed to spell his name wrong (there’s no ‘p’). The exhibition Through the Lens of John Thompson 1868-1872 (sic) will be on display at the museum between 16 April and 18 May.

The collection was wisely purchased by Henry Wellcome in 1921 and is held at the Library’s Euston Road library in London.

The Wellcome Library has digitised all 650 glass negatives in their collection – though I don’t know how many will be on show in Peking. All were taken by Thomson during his travels in the Far East in the 1860s and 70s. Thomson captured these rare scenes using the collodion process, a very early photographic technique and are generally clear and in very good condition.

I look forward to the exhibition and here’s hoping they get the man’s name right by April.

Musings on Early China Photography II - What Herbert Ponting Did Before the South Pole
Musings on Early China Photography III - Lai Fong


William said...

Many thanks for this. The exhibition opened yesterday (16 April 2009) and you will be glad to know that the misspelling in the preliminary publicity has been corrected. "China through the lens of John Thomson 1868-1872" is at the World Art Museum, Beijing, until 18 May, and will then move south to Fujian Museum, Fuzhou City,(13 June-16 August), Guangzhou Museum (25 August - 25 September), and Donguan Exhibition Center, Donguan City, 3 November -6 December 2009). Visitor and media reaction in Beijing has been very positive: the digital scans from Thomson's original negatives (many of them until now unpublished) have revealed hitherto unsuspected details, and the design and installation in Beijing (not the responsibility of the undersigned) have been widely praised. Do visit it at one of its venues. There is also a substantial illustrated catalogue.

Best wishes,
William Schupbach
Librarian, Prints Photographs Paintings and Drawings,
Wellcome Library, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
E-mail: w.schupbach@wellcome.ac.uk
(currently in Beijing)

Paul French said...

And, if it has been said before, well done to the Wellcome for undertaking the digitisation - a great job by a great insitution

TS3 said...

Hi, Does anyone know if a book of this collection is available anywhere and if there is, where can I get it? Thanks!

William Schupbach said...

Reply to Tsz:

yes there is a fully illustrated catalogue. For details including the ISBN please see

Best wishes, William Schupbach

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