Picturing China: Historic Photographs, Views and Engravings

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Picturing China

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Picturing China: Historic Photographs, Views and Engravings

Early explorers returning from India and China provided the Western world with visions of the exotic Far East that changed the course of history. During the late 16th and early 17th centuries the first European views of China appeared in the Jesuit accounts and voyage records. Two of the most famous expeditions were undertaken by the Dutch East India Co. in the 1660's, and MacCartney's British Embassy in the 1790's. The Nieuhoff brothers, renowned cartographers, produced superb copper engravings of the Dutch journey. The young William Alexander accompanied the British and returned to fame. His sketches were developed into elaborate engravings and are regarded as one of the finest sets on Asia ever printed.

Most of Asia remained remote through the middle of the 19th century. Steel engravings replaced soft copper plates, and a few determined missionaries and adventurers were able to record the customs and sites along their travels. In 1842 Shanghai was opened after the First Opium War, followed by the concession of Hong Kong. The flow of goods and "curiosities" from treaty ports piqued further interest in China. Landmarks, street scenes and costumes were recorded in publications in America and Europe.

The arrival of the camera intensified foreign pursuits. At the end 19th century Chinese photography studios were becoming established, changing perspective of the images. Wealthy merchants and civil servants reflected a refined and educated society, in sharp contrast to the common life previously portrayed. A vast new market and abundant opportunity were seen by many in the West. Travel and trade increased, foreign settlements and schools expanded. The beginning of the 20th century presented a bustling China coast ot the outside world.

The Boxer Rebellion in 1903 marked the inner turmoil on Chinese soul that eventually led to the fall of Chang Dynasty in 1911. The Official Court Photographer YUE presented the final era of Imperial rule in a small series, the first scene of life within the walls of the Forbidden City.

Rare original 17th and 18th century copper engravings from the voyages of the Dutch East India Co. and MacCartney's British Embassy, 19th century steel engravings and lithographs, including the Perry Expedition, and the 19th and 20th century prints and photographs, including scenes inside the Forbidden City are featured at our gallery.


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