Rare images revealing 19th century China set to fetch £20,000

Life in China’s last dynasty: Rare images taken by one of the first British photographers to explore the far eastern nation 150 years ago go on sale for £20,000

  • John Thomson travelled to Far East in 1868, establishing a studio in Commercial Bank building in Hong Kong
  • He used it as a base to explore and photograph remote parts of the vast country for the next four years
  • One image shows prisoner his with head poking through board which has words on it written in Chinese 

Rarely seen photos taken by one of the first British photographers to explore China 150 years ago have emerged for sale for £20,000.

John Thomson travelled to the Far East in 1868, establishing a studio in the Commercial Bank building in Hong Kong.

He used it as a base to explore remote parts of the vast country for the next four years, photographing landmarks, scenery and the native population. 

One striking image shows a prisoner in chains with his head poking through a board which has words on it written in Chinese.

Rarely seen photos taken by John Thomson, one of the first British photographers to explore China 150 years ago, have emerged for sale for £20,000. One striking image shows a prisoner in chains with his head poking through a board which has words on it written in Chinese

Thomson photographed archers, street sellers and farmers, as well as a woman applying make up and elders in a temple. Above: An archer strikes a pose

Another apparent wrongdoer is seen imprisoned in a wooden stockade alongside a message written in Chinese which likely lists his misdemeanours

In another, a man poses next to a giant camel statue in the grounds around the Ming tombs of the Forbidden City.

Thomson photographed archers, street sellers and farmers, as well as a woman applying make up and elders in a temple.

There are also images of traditional pagodas, bustling city scenes and mountainside villages.

In many cases, he was the first Westerner the people he photographed had encountered.  

Thomson’s images also show off the fashions of the day. Almost 100 of his photos feature in a rare first edition of ‘Thomson Illustrations of China and Its People’ (1873), which is going under the hammer with London-based Forum Auctions

A young man who appears to be a soldier is seen posing with a rudimentary rifle and a belt of ammunition

Taxi! A man and woman are seen taking a ride on a rickshaw powered by just one man. Max Hasler, specialist at Forum Auctions, said: ‘John Thomson was a pioneering Scottish photographer, who was one of the first known photographers to travel to the Far East and document the people, landscapes and artefacts of the Chinese culture’

A seated young woman is seen having her hair attended to by an assistant, as a young boy stands by her side

Two older men pose next to each other as the Scot Thomson takes their photo during his time in China. The sale of the book containing the illustration takes place tomorrow

There are also images of traditional pagodas, bustling city scenes and mountainside villages. In many cases, Thomson was the first Westerner the people he photographed had encountered

There are pictures of the stunning architecture in what appears to be a Western concession area of a Chinese city

A man poses next to a giant camel statue in the grounds around the Ming tombs of the Forbidden City in Beijing

Almost 100 of his photos feature in a rare first edition of ‘Thomson Illustrations of China and Its People’ (1873), which is going under the hammer with London-based Forum Auctions. 

It is being sold by a member of the book trade.

Max Hasler, specialist at Forum Auctions, said: ‘John Thomson was a pioneering Scottish photographer, who was one of the first known photographers to travel to the Far East and document the people, landscapes and artefacts of the Chinese culture.

Thomson also photographed bustling street scenes during his time in China. Above: One of the cityscapes photographed by the Scotsman

A group of men with shaven heads pose for a group photo at a temple around a seated man who smiles for the camera 

A Chinese person looks into what appears to be a makeshift pen housing birds or other animals, as another man watches on

A man has his foot treated by another individual with a ponytail, as an elderly person watches on with a pipe in their mouth

A portrait of a family wrapped up warm against the elements. The man in the centre is wearing a coat made from animal fur

Ready, aim fire! Three men stand around a cannon. Behind them, a huge mound of cannonballs shows that they have plenty of ammunition 

‘He visited various remote and almost unpopulated regions, where many of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner before, let alone a camera.

‘These represent one of the best photographic records of China from that period, and they record a world that would vanish almost entirely in the years after.’

The sale takes place tomorrow.

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