William Saunders was the pre-eminent photographer in Shanghai during the late Qing dynasty era. Believed to be the first person to produce hand-colored photos of China, his studio stood next to the famous Astor House Hotel on the Bund. His work was published in Far East Magazine, and engravings of it appeared in the Illustrated London News and other leading journals.
However, since that time it has never been publicly exhibited. Until now, that is. Curated by Stacey Lambrow, ‘Qing Dynasty Shanghai: The Photographs of William Saunders’ features a selection of original 19th Century albumen silver prints by Saunders from Stephan Loewentheil’s Historical Photography of China Collection, the largest holding of historical photographs of the country in private hands.
The exhibition will run at London’s China Exchange from November 4-12 as part of Asian Art in London and will also feature a re-creation of Saunders’ Shanghai studio.
Saunders’ pictures offer an intimate view of the diverse inhabitants of Shanghai — already by the mid 19th Century a thriving port city, cultural hub and meeting place of merchants and travelers from far and wide — and their ways of life in this transitional era.
An Englishman who originally traveled to China as an engineer in 1860, his studio offered portraiture and sold architectural and topographical compositions, as well as photographs of war and conflict in the country, important Chinese events, and genre photographs of Chinese people.
His tinted prints reflect the egalitarian impact of photography: many of them offer representations of tradespeople and other subjects not otherwise commonly portrayed in more traditional art forms.
Qing Dynasty Shanghai: The Photographs of William Saunders will run as part of Asian Art in London from November 4-12 at the China Exchange, 32a Gerrard Street, London. Admission is free. The exhibition is sponsored by the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop, Brooklyn, New York. Asian Art In London brings together over 60 of the world’s top dealers, major auction houses and museums for an annual ten-day celebration of the finest Asian art.