BEATO, FELICE (1825-1908) Views of Japan
--cover title [generally known as Photographic Views of Japan with Historical and Descriptive Notes]. London: circa 1869. 19th century half morocco, labeled as above on the upper board. 13 1/2 x 9 inches (34 x 48 cm); with 101 albumen prints, early landscape views of Japan on hand-captioned card mounts; many with the accompanying printed texts, by James W. Murray and others, printed on thin paper, mounted on the opposing pages. Front board and endpaper detached. One print with a tear about two inches into the image (apparently dating from the time it was mounted into the album), and two other images with much shorter tears. The image tones are, in general, very good, without excessive fading. The copy of Ben.[jamin] Smith, Union Club, San Francisco; his inscription to this effect on the flyleaf..
An exceptionally early and prodigiously rare and important series of albumen prints of Japanese views, taken by the foremost photographer in the region at that time. This is an unusually complete copy, with one more than the customary normal maximum complement of one hundred images (of note, of the surviving examples, many have substantially fewer plates; the Smith College example has, for example, just fifty images). Few copies are known with the full number of images; Beato offered albums in a variety of different configurations. It contains many of the accompanying printed text leaves; some images lack them, presumably because there was no prepared text yet available.
We have been unable to trace Benjamin Smith, but it is worthy of note that the Union Club mentioned in his inscription was founded in 1854. It became the Union-Pacific in 1889 (so the inscription precedes that date), with the merger of the Union and Pacific Clubs, and it is likely that, given the pre-1889 date implied by this, he was the first owner of the album. The Club still exists today, an elite institution whose quarters survived the great San Francisco earthquake and fire.
Beato, an Englishman, arrived in Japan in 1863, after photographic adventures that included the Crimea, India and China. He had, in fact, considerable skill as a military photographer, and was a pioneer in that field, and he was fully aware of the aesthetic potentials of the medium, as demonstrated by the beauty and sensitivity of the images in the present album. A full inventory of the images is available upon request.
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