About the Exhibition

The virtual exhibition “Seizing Shadows: Rare Photographs by late Qing Dynasty Masters” presents a selection of the world’s finest nineteenth-century photographs of China by pioneering Chinese art photographers.

The exhibition draws from the Loewentheil Collection which was assembled over more than three decades of dedicated connoisseurship. The Loewentheil Collection comprises about 14,000 photographs spanning the earliest days of paper photography from the 1850s through the 1930s, the majority from before 1900. In addition, there are about 7000 photographs in the Loewentheil Collection from the Ernst Boerschmann Archive on the history of Chinese architecture.

The virtual exhibition presents photographs, many never before exhibited or digitized, by major early Chinese photographers and studios including Lai Fong, Liang Shitai, Pun Lun Studio, Tung Hing Studio, A Chan (Ya Zhen) Studio, Pow Kee Photographer Studio, Yu Xunling, and others.

The Loewentheil Collection includes unparalleled holdings of photographs by Chinese artists. This virtual exhibition offers the opportunity to view and explore rare early portraits including an iconic photograph of Empress Dowager Cixi by the Imperial photographer, Yu Xunling. Photography fascinated the Empress and she carefully orchestrated her portraits and tableaus. Another important portrait in the virtual exhibition is of the Marquis Li Hongzhang made by Liang Shitai, one the foremost nineteenth-century photographers. The compelling photograph conveys the Marquis’s power and inner character. The exhibition also presents some of the earliest photographic depictions of Chinese art and culture such as Lai Fong’s portrait of two Peking Opera performers. One of the earliest known photographs to depict a guqin is also included. It is the first time the image of China’s most revered ancient instrument, played by a female musician, is being shown. The Loewentheil Collection holds the only known surviving copy of the print by Nga Chan (Yazhen) Studio. In addition, a rare photograph of a Dragon Boat race shows the boats streaming past spectators on a crowded river in Guangzhou. A view of the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan depicts the landmark made famous by the Tang Dynasty poets Li Bai and Cui Hao. An exquisite photograph of a waterfall reflects the tradition of shan shui painting.

“Seizing Shadows: Rare Photographs by late Qing Dynasty Masters” brings together selected works by the leading figures in nineteenth-century photography in China. Each is a pinnacle of photographic art worthy of study and exhibition. Photography transports us through time and space with an immediacy transcending the written word. It allows us to experience the people, places, and events of the past and offers a precise view of otherwise inaccessible times. This exhibition of original photographic art created in China captures the architecture of its historic cities, the monuments of revered ancestors, the faces of China’s diverse peoples, and the legendary beauty of China, from its rivers to its mountains, from the Great Wall to the Forbidden City.



Rare Photographs by Late Qing Dynasty Chinese Masters