Images by 19th Century Photography Pioneers for Auction at Bonhams

. July 28, 2011 . 0 Comments

An exceptionally rare set of photographic albums of the Dutch East Indies by the pioneering Victorian photographers, Walter Woodbury and James Page, is to be auctioned at the India and Beyond sale at Bonhams in London on 4 October.

The six volumes, estimated between £40,000-50,000, are an invaluable historical, social, political and cultural resource and represent a third of Woodbury and Page’s total photographic output.

The 248 images in the albums include portraits of notable Indonesian figures, ethnographic studies, Dutch colonial life and topographical views from Sumatra to The Moluccas. They belonged to the German botanist, Dr Franz Benecke, who worked in Java in the early 1890s. His ownership inscriptions appear in each album and manuscript captions on the mounts of each photograph, written in German, are assumed to be in his hand.

Woodbury, a Mancunian by birth, is the earliest known photographer of the Dutch East Indies, arriving in Batavia (present day Jakarta) with his colleague and fellow Briton James Page, in 1857. The two had met in Australia and had planned a photographic expedition around South East Asia. They got as far as Java where, finding demand plentiful, they established a business in Batavia.

Initially, they had to overcome the practical difficulties of developing wet photographic plates in tropical condition. These problems mastered, however, they soon reaped the rewards, marketing their work in the UK through the well connected firm of Negretti and Zambra and earning the admiration of their peers.

Woodbury and Page travelled throughout the Dutch East Indies recording the countryside and the lives of the people until, in 1863, Woodbury, plagued by ill health, returned to the UK with his Javanese wife. The company continued under the name Photographisch Atelier van Walter Woodbury until its liquidation in 1908.

Woodbury went on to invent and patent the Woodburytype which between 1870 and 1900 became the standard printing process for illustrating fine books. Woodbury died in Margate in 1885 at the age of 51 of an overdose of opium, whether accidental or deliberate the coroner was unable to determine. James Page died in Java at just 32 in 1865.

Category: Auction News

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