Felice Beato, ‘Japan’, 1863-1866, Phillips
Felice Beato, ‘Japan’, 1863-1866, Phillips

Varying dimensions from 6 3/8 x 5 in. (16.2 x 12.7 cm) to 9 x 32 3/8 in. (22.9 x 82.2 cm)

From the Catalogue:
This album is a rare example of Felice Beato’s early work in Japan, where he opened a studio in 1863 with the English artist and journalist Charles Wirgman. The studio and its contents were destroyed by fire in 1866, at which point Beato dissolved the partnership with Wirgman. The early date of the documented photographs in the album, as well as the presence of two photographs after drawings by Wirgman, indicate that this album was compiled no later than 1866. The album is distinguished by the quality and preservation of its hand-coloring, by the first-rate selection of portraits, genre studies, landscapes, and city views, and by the generally strong print quality.

The Italian-born Beato set up his studio in Yokohama, one of the few areas of the country in which Westerners were allowed. At the time, Japan was reluctantly yielding to pressure from America and Europe to allow trade. The country was divided about opening its doors, and hostilities to outsiders lurked just below the surface of everyday life. Violence against Westerners was not unknown. Despite these pressures and restrictions upon travel, Beato created a remarkable body of work in Japan, and his photographs capture the last period of Japanese feudal culture that had endured for centuries but was quickly disappearing. This state of affairs is embodied by one of Beato’s panoramas in the present album that shows the British naval fleet anchored just off the coast of Yokohama. This panorama was reproduced as an engraving in the London Illustrated News in October 1864 (Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Eastern Road, p. 21).

Beato set the template for the photographic profession in Japan. He was the first photographer in Japan to package and sell his pictures in albums, and the first to make panoramic views. He employed local artists to hand-color his photographs using water-based pigments, as opposed to oils, which yielded images of subtly-modulated coloration. Beato’s innovations became conventions that were increasingly imitated by other photographers in the following decades. Few of these later iterations of Beato’s approach possess the skill or immediacy of the photographs contained in this album.
Courtesy of Phillips

Lacoste, Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Eastern Road, fig. 9, pl. 49

Christie's, London, 3 May 1995, lot 117

About Felice Beato