China through the lens

China through the lens

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum autumn exhibition China through the lens of John Thomson (1837 – 1921), features stunning photographs of China taken in the 1860s and 1870s.

Edinburgh-born John Thomson spent four years photographing the regions of China and produced iconic photographs of people and places. Such is the range, depth and aesthetic quality of his work that he is regarded as one of the most influential photographers of his generation. This body of work established him as a pioneer of photojournalism.

As a foreigner in China, Thomson’s ability to gain access to photograph women was particularly remarkable. Whether photographing the rich and famous or people in the streets going about their everyday business, Thomson’s desire was to present a faithful account of the people he encountered.

Cantonese school boy - The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum autumn exhibition China through the lens of John Thomson (1837 – 1921) - Credit The Wellcome Library, London

Cantonese school boy – Credit The Wellcome Library, London

When Thomson travelled to China cameras were large and heavy. Travelling on arduous journeys over difficult terrain with a large number of cumbersome crates, glass plates and bottles of highly flammable and poisonous chemicals, it’s remarkable that Thomson was able to make photographs of such beauty and sensitivity.

Visitors will see iconic photographs of China reproduced on a large, sometimes life-size, scale, accompanied by items from the museum’s own collection of objects collected by Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes on their visit to China in the 1880s.

Exhibition curator, Betty Yao said: ‘it is very exciting that John Thomson’s wonderful photographs will be seen in Bournemouth and in the context of the beautiful Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and their historic Chinese collection. It will offer an extraordinary insight into 19th century China and into the views, perceptions and interests of British travelers, such as Thomson and the Russell-Cotes, who were among the first tourists and travellers.

The Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum comprises an art gallery, museum, historic house, a licensed café and a shop. Its collections of high Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite Art are of international-standing and include Albert Moore’s Midsummer and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Venus Verticordia. Built by Merton Russell-Cotes as an extravagant birthday gift for his wife, Annie, the museum celebrates the couple’s passion for art and travel, world cultures and natural history.

China through the lens of John Thomson runs at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, East Cliff Promenade, Bournemouth BH1 3AA from Friday 2nd November until 2nd June, 2019. Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays.

For more information, visit or contact the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum on 01202 451858