Lot 185
  • 185

Beato, Felice

100,000 - 200,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • A group of 18 photographs taken in China during the Second Opium War, including panoramas of Taku Fort, Peking, the Imperial Winter Palace and the Imperial Summer Palace. [negatives: China, August-October, 1860; prints: China, late October/early November, 1860]
  • paper
Together with a double-portrait of Major General Sir Robert Napier and Major Greathead. [negative: Lucknow, 1857; print: China, 1860]

27 albumen prints, showing 18 views and one double portrait, on 19 individual mounts (378 x 430mm.), comprising: 15 individual prints (from 201 x 166mm. to 245 x 295mm., or the reverse), three 2-plate panoramas (from 223 x 273mm. to 235 x 596mm.), and one 6-plate panorama of Peking (217 x 1733mm.), together with a leaf signed and dated by the original owner ("E.H. Courtney / Lt. R.E. / China. 1860"), each photograph captioned by Courtney in ink on the mount, the photographs preserved in archival sleeves within a modern black cloth box


Purchased from the photographer by Lieut. (later Major General) Edward Henry Courtney, Royal Engineers (1836-1913), signed and dated on one sheet 'E.H. Courtney / Lt. R.E. / China, 1860' and with his captions on each mount.

Courtney was born in Baroda, India on 6 August 1836, he obtained a commission as Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers 31 July 1855, and was a major in 1872. He took part in the China War, 1858-1860, and was mentioned in despatches by Lieut. Colonel G.F. Mann, who wrote: 'Of the Officers who have more particularly exerted themselves during the whole of the operations [on the taking of the Taku/Peiho Forts and advance on Peking], I may be permitted to mention Lieut. Courtney, R.E., (Acting Adjutant), and Lieut. Harrison, R.E.' (Papers on Subjects Connected with the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers. New Series Volume XI. London: W.P. Jackson, 1862). He was at Malta in 1870, following which he was appointed Professor of Survey at Cooper’s Hill College, Staines, from 7 July 1872 to 31 December 1887, when he retired as Major General. In 1906 he was Governor of the Military Knights of Windsor and was made C.V.O. He died at Gerrards Cross, 21 June 1913.


Harris, David. Of Battle and Beauty. Felice Beato's Photographs of China. (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1999); Bennett, T. History of Photography in China 1842-1860 (London: Quaritch, 2009, pp. 141-162); Lacoste, Anne. Felice Beato. A Photographer on the Eastern Road. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010)


Condition is described in the main body of the cataloguing, where appropriate.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A rare group of important photographs of China by Beato, including the first photographic panorama of Peking showing the interior of the city.

This set of photographs was produced in Peking (Beijing) by Beato and purchased from him by Lieut. E.H. Courtney of the Royal Engineers, who took part in the capture of the Taku forts and the advance on Peking, and whose annotations appear on the mount of each photograph.

The photographs show views of Pehtang (2), North "Taku" Fort (4, including a panorama), Tung Chow Pagoda, a 6-part panorama of Peking from the South Gate, the Imperial Winter Palace (2, including a panorama), the Temple of Heaven, the Imperial Summer Palace (4, including a panorama), Tombs near Peking (2), the entrance to the Lama Temple near Peking, and a double-portrait of Major General Sir Robert Napier and Major Greathead.

Beato's photographs form a visual narrative of the campaign in China, beginning with the captured Taku forts and culminating in views in and around Peking, including images of the Imperial Summer Palace before and after the conflagration and a magnificent 6-plate panorama of Peking from the South Gate. 

"Beato carefully cultivated his contacts among the British officers, who made up one of his principal markets. After each photo shoot, he would make prints from his new negatives and show them around, successfully negotiating a number of sales. Before the allied forces left Peking in early November, Beato again actively sought customers among the troops." (Lacoste, p.10)

When Beato arrived back in London in the second half of 1861 he was keen to make commercial gain from his photographs taken in India and China. Henry Hering, a commercial photographer and publisher purchased a large quantity of photographs from Beato and offered copies for sale by subscription. It is important to note that the photographs that Hering offered for sale however differ from Beato's original prints: "Evidence indicates that Hering's prints were made from a copy negative, with the slightly different framing and loss of detail that often occur during this process. Some were retouched, such as the photograph of the Lama Temple, in which parts of the trees in the background were cleaned up. All prints were numbered in the negative and sold with a printed caption pasted on the mount. The images were printed on thin paper and were much darker with greater contrasts, as Hering added gold and platinum toning." (Lacoste, p.12)