Frith, Francis | Frith's monumental photographic record of the Middle East

Lot Closed

December 9, 08:24 PM GMT


20,000 - 30,000 USD

Lot Details


Frith, Francis

Sinai and Palestine. [With:] Lower Egypt, Thebes and the Pyramids. [And with:] Upper Egypt and Ethiopia. London: William Mackenzie, [1863]

3 vols, folio (430 x 311 mm). 111 mounted gold-toned albumen photographs (36 in each volume and additional titles with mounted vignettes); scattered foxing to titles and at sheet edges. Bound to style in half block morocco and publisher's period cloth covered boards, spines with raised bands in 6 compartments, second and fourth lettered in gilt, others ruled in gilt, all edges gilt, marbled endpapers; boards lightly rubbed.

The best edition of Frith's photographs of Upper and Lower Egypt and the Holy Land.

By the mid 1850s, Frith had sold his grocery and printing businesses to devote himself full time to photography. Between 1856 and 1860, he made three expeditions to Egypt, Sinai, Ethiopia, and Jerusalem, photographically documenting Middle Eastern architecture and culture. "On the first, he sailed up the Nile to the Second Cataract, recording the main historic monuments between Cairo and Abu Simbel. On the second, he struck eastwards to Palestine, visiting Jerusalem, Damascus and other sites associated with the life of Christ. The final expedition was the most ambitious, combining a second visit to the Holy Land with a deeper southward penetration of the Nile. His photographs of the temple at Soleb, 800 miles south of Cairo, represent a genuinely pioneering achievement. Unlike many travel photographers of this period, Frith used the wet collodion process in preference to the more convenient paper-based calotype. Because it involved chemically sensitizing the glass plates on site, this process posed particular problems in a climate dominated by heat, dust and insects. Commenting sardonically on how his chemicals often boiled on contact with the glass, he nevertheless produced negatives that are remarkable for their consistently high technical standard ... Frith photographed most of the key monuments several times, combining general views with close studies of their significant details and broader views of their landscape environment. The clarity of his images proved to be of immense value to archaeologists. The photographs are also often powerfully composed, revealing an understanding of the poetic qualities of light that gives them lasting aesthetic value" (McKenzie, Grove Art).

Upon his return to London, Frith first published his photographs under the title Egypt and Palestine Photographed and Described, in two volumes with 76 photographs. Various other works followed, including his elephant folio Egypt, Sinai and Jerusalem in 1860 with 20 albumen images, as well as a deluxe edition of the Queen's Bible illustrated with 57 photographs of the Holy Land in 1862. The present edition was published by Mackenzie in 1863 comprising four volumes: Sinai and Palestine; Lower Egypt, Thebes and the Pyramids; Upper Egypt and Ethiopia; and a supplementary volume titled Egypt, Sinai and Palestine. Each volume contained an illustrated title and 36 mounted photographs, for a total of 148 images. The final volume, evidently issued subsequent to the previous three, was a supplementary volume and is not present here, as is often the case.

Comparing these volumes to Frith's 1858-59 Egypt and Palestine Photographed and Described, Gernsheim refers to the present set as the "second, enlarged edition." While there are certainly similarities between the two works, including images printed from the same negatives and with some identical textual descriptions, in many ways the present set is an entirely different work. Whereas the earlier work was issued in parts with a random ordering of the images, the present set is organized based on Frith's expeditions, yielding a better visual narrative of his experience. Furthermore, many of the images appear here for the first time, having not been included in any form in the original edition, and many images are variants of views from entirely different negatives than those appearing in the earlier work. Of this latter category, some are slight variants from the same location and angle (e.g. The Sphynx and Great Pyramid, Gezah; Temple of Koum Ombo; etc.), but others are entirely different compositions of the same location (e.g. Entrance to the Great Temple, Luxor). Finally, a number of images from the previous edition are not used here at all (e.g. Protestant Episcopal Church, Jerusalem; Sculptures from the Outer Wall, Dendear; etc.).

Perhaps most significantly, however, are the size of the images (being slightly larger in the present work) and the quality of images. Gernsheim writes: "The prints in this edition are of a much stronger quality than those in the first edition having been gold-toned." The process of toning the albumen prints with gold chloride and other solvents both intensified the blacks and helped prevent fading and yellowing, yielding an overall better quality of images.

(See lot 1043.)


Gernsheim p.195