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Library of Birmingham Boosted by Important 19th Century Photography Collection
Francis Bedford, Tour in the East, Birmingham Central Library.

BIRMINGHAM.- A collection of rare photographs from the first photography commission for a Royal trip abroad has been purchased by Birmingham Library and Archive Services. Taken by the pioneering British photographer Francis Bedford (1816-1894), they chronicle the ‘Tour in the East’ made in 1862 by the Prince of Wales, (the late Edward VII). Bedford became the first official photographer to accompany a member of the British Royal Family when he was invited to travel as part of the entourage of the Prince of Wales on a ‘Tour In The East’ which covered Athens, Corfu, Constantinople, Tripoli, Egypt, Syria and the Holy Land.

Birmingham Library and Archive Services has acquired a rare set of the 172 photographs resulting from this tour for £55000 with grants of £32500 from the Art Fund and £15000 from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. The collection will be housed in the Library of Birmingham, currently under construction and due to open in 2013.

Originally published in 21 parts each containing 8 prints, together with three albums and two rectangular folios printed in 1862, the prints were further grouped into three portfolios titled Egypt, the Holy Land and Syria, and Constantinople and the Mediterranean. In addition to recording the official Royal visit, Bedford was permitted to photograph Christian and Muslim holy sites previously restricted as sacrosanct. His photographs therefore represent a unique visual diary of the tour and an important architectural and archaeological record of the Middle East.

The acquisition complements an already significant collection of 18th and 19th century published works on the archaeology, history and culture of the Middle East owned by Birmingham Library and Archive Services and will give Birmingham the largest and most significant collection of work relating to Francis Bedford in the world.

The acquisition will enable the Library to stage a major exhibition in the future showing the entire work for the first time since the exhibition in the 1860s - in the new Library of Birmingham. It may also enable the Library to organise an exhibition as part of a series of cultural exchanges proposed through the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between Birmingham City Council and Abu Dhabi.

Pete James, Head of Photographs, Birmingham Library and Archive Services, said, “We are very grateful to the Art Fund and to the V&A for their continued support in enabling us to strengthen and diversify our collections and Birmingham’s reputation as an international centre of excellence. This truly inspiring body of work by Francis Bedford will further enhance the value of our collection for scholars of the Middle East from educational institutions all over the world.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said, “We’re thrilled to have helped with the purchase of this fantastic collection of historic photographs which tell us so much about the UK’s history in ‘the East’ and offers a fascinating insight into the role of the Royal family some 150 years ago. Over the past few years we’ve helped Birmingham Library and Archive Services with a number of major photography acquisitions and look forward to the opening of the Library of Birmingham and the fantastic displays it will bring to members of the public.

‘Tour in the East’ is regarded by most photographic historians as being amongst the most important body of nineteenth century photographs of the Middle East andthe crowning achievement of Bedford’s photographic career. Opening to critical acclaim in 1862, the exhibition at the German Gallery in Bond Street, London was described by the British Journal of Photography as ‘‘perhaps the most important photographic exhibition that has hitherto been placed before the public”. Bedford received a silver medal for the series at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867.

The acquisition bolsters Birmingham’s reputation locally, nationally and internationally as a centre for the history of photography, particularly within the context of the photography research centre to be created as part of the new Library of Birmingham.

In recent years, the Art Fund, the national fund-raising charity for works of art, has helped Birmingham Library and Archive Services with a number of major acquisitions. These include a £42,695 grant towards the John Blakemore Archive (2010), £6000 towards the Back to the Village series by Anna Fox (2009) and £12,000 towards the Sir Benjamin Stone Legacy Collection (2008).

‘Tour in the East’ is regarded by most photographic historians as the crowning achievement of Bedford’s photographic career and complete sets of the work are extremely rare with one recent set sold on 19 February 2009, at the Swann Galleries in the USA, The sale setting an auction record for Bedford's work with the suite of three albums selling for $132,000 (approx £82,500). Individual prints have sold for £800 to £1200 each. The Library of Birmingham acquisition consists of:

Suite of 3 portfolios entitled "Photographic Pictures Made By Mr. Francis Bedford During the Tour in the East in which, by command, he accompanied His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales."

172 photographs. Albumen prints, each is approximately 8 3/4x11 inches
(22.2x27.9 cm.), many with Bedford's credit in the negative with a single photograph mounted to each leaf.

2 x oblong folios, with the original gilt-lettered morocco title label "Photographic Pictures of Tours in the East" affixed to front covers.
London: Day & Son, 1862.


Birmingham Central Library already holds a substantial body of work by and about Francis Bedford. This includes:

§ The largest surviving collection of Bedford’s work: 2700 glass negatives and 2049 prints, mostly architectural and topographical views of Great Britain c1870-1880.

§ Published works illustrated with Bedford photographs including W.M. Thompson, The Holy Land, Egypt, Constantinople and Athens, 1866; Photographic Views of Torquay c1865, Photographic Views of Warwickshire c1865.

§ A comprehensive catalogue of all Bedford topographical photographs including Cabinet, Large Cabinet, Panoramic, Small Cabinets, Large Photographs, and Small Panoramic Miniature Views.

§ A facsimile of the 1862 catalogue of Bedford’s Photographic Pictures taken during the Tour in the East .

§ Published works illustrated by Bedford lithographs and chromolithographs including Owen Jones, The Grammar or Ornament, 1856; Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition, 1858; Sir John C Robinson, The Treasury of Ornament, 1858.

§ Bill Jay, ‘Francis Bedford, 1816-1894, English landscape Photographer of the wet-plate period’: a manuscript ‘being substantially the same as a dissertation submitted for a MA Fine Arts, University of New Mexico, 1976.’

§ Bedford’s British topographic photographs are also present in collections such as The Sir Benjamin Stone Collection.

Francis Bedford (1816-1894) was the son of the prominent architect Francis Octavius Bedford, an influential figure in the Greek Revivalist movement of the early 19th century. He began his career as a draughtsman and lithographer and illustrated a series of books on architecture. The types of composition used in his drawings and lithographs became models for the photographs he was to make in later life.

Bedford took up photography in the early 1850s. He became well-known as one of the best English landscape photographers of the wet-plate period, his background in commercial art providing invaluable insights into the marketing of images and the tastes of the public. Bedford worked extensively in the south-west of England, the West Midlands and in Wales.

His work was highly acclaimed during his lifetime. More recently, the photo-historian, Graham Ovendon, has suggested that ‘Bedford’s photographs illustrate what is perhaps one of the most important qualities in Pre-Raphaelite art, the harmonious existence of the natural and the human world.’

Between 1843 and 1849 Bedford frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy. In the 1850s he produced numerous publications featuring his work including two Photographic Albums, 1855-1856; The Treasury of Ornamental Art, 1858; and The Sunbeam, 1859. By 1861 he had been elected Vice-President of the London Photographic Society.

The 1860s was his most active decade with his business flourishing. In 1861 he was the first photographer to use electric light successfully in printing. In 1862 Bedford received a Royal Commission to accompany the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) on this educational tour of the Middle East. In 1864 he contributed to The Ruined Castles of North Wales and over the next four years produced a whole series of Photographic Views covering North Wales, Tenby, and neighbourhood, Exeter, Torquay, Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon and neighbourhood. Bedford’s Obituary (The Bookseller, 6 June, 1894) concluded that he was ‘one of the leading photographers of the day’ and that he had ‘produced some of the finest photographs issued in this country.’

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