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Photos of 19th-century Beijing to be auctioned in London

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-05-06 10:54

Auction house Sotheby's is to put on sale on May 14 a collection of photos on Beijing taken by Italian-British photographer Felice Beato in 1860.

Beato (1832-1909) came to China in 1860 as a war photographer along with invading Anglo-French forces during the Second Opium War.

"These photos were the first views of China most people in Europe had ever seen," Richard Fattorini, director of the printed books, manuscripts and topographical photographs section of Sotheby's, told Xinhua. "Today, many of the images gave us a rare view of the lost imperial gardens in Beijing."

It is known to all that the Anglo-French forces pillaged the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, in 1860 and destroyed many of its buildings as the plunderers set the garden on fire after lootings.

Four of the 18 photos disclosed some buildings in the Summer Palace, or Yiheyuan (called Qingyiyuan then), were also flattened during the invasion.

One photo, taken in October 1860 and used on cover page of the auction catalogue, recorded the belvedere of Wenchangge, or the Studio of Literary Prosperity. It was recognized as the only photographic record of that building, torched by the invaders in 1860.

Another highlight of the collection is a six-plate panorama of Beijing under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). "It is the first ever panorama of Beijing in 180 degrees, showing the interior of the city with the Forbidden City as the background," Fattorini said.

The pictures taken by Beato from the South Gate of Beijing showed that houses and buildings were low and stood largely in orderly rows and the hill in the Summer Palace was clearly visible.

"It took him almost a whole day to get this," Fattorini said. "And you need to move very quickly so as not to get strange shadows. This is very hard. Six individual photographs, and you need to apply the negatives to glass exposers under the same lighting conditions as you move the camera. He is really a master of panorama."

Other photos featured a tomb in southeast Beijing's Tongzhou, the Dagu forts, the Beihai Park, and the gateway of the Lama Temple.

These 18 photos were later sold to Lieutenant Edward Courtney and kept by his descendants, Fattorini said.

Fattorini believed that the photos could fetch 100,000 to 200,000 pounds (155,715 to 311,429 US dollars), adding that the auction house has received phone calls from potential buyers, including private collectors in China.

He hoped that the photos could be bought by or donated to a Chinese museum. Also on May 14, an album of about 70 photos taken by John Thomson in China's Shantou, Xiamen and Taiwan in the 1870s are to be auctioned.

With thatched huts, fishing boats and local people in their traditional dresses, these photos could "take back people who never understand Chinese culture", said Fattorini, adding that price of the album could be between 70,000 and 100,000 pounds (109,000 to 155,715 dollars).

Photos of 19th-century Beijing to be auctioned in London

Photos of 19th-century Beijing to be auctioned in London

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