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Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Rare View of China's Last Dynasty

In May of 1870, Thomas Child was hired by the Imperial Maritime Customs Service to be a gas engineer in Peking (Beijing). The 29-year-old Englishman left behind his wife and three children to become one of roughly 100 foreigners living in the late Qing dynasty's capital, taking his camera along with him. Over the course of the next 20 years, he took some 200 photographs, capturing the earliest comprehensive catalog of the customs, architecture, and people during China's last dynasty. On Thursday, an exhibition of his images will open at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery in New York, curated by Stacey Lambrow. In addition, descendants of the subjects of one of his most famous images, Bride and Bridegroom (1870s), will be in attendance.

 The wedding portrait of Zeng Jifen and Nie ji Gui, who were only recently identified. The bride is the daughter of Marquis Zeng Guofan, a high-ranking Chinese official during the Qing dynasty.

Left: A view of the Fragrant Hills Pagoda, which was part of the Grand Zongjing Monastery. The pagoda is embellished with glazed tiles of yellow, green, purple, and blue. Right: The 12th century pagoda of Tianning Temple, standing a few miles from the west gate of the city. It is one of the oldest buildings in the capital. Like many other Liao dynasty pagodas, the structure is solid. A sealed underground chamber holds Buddhist relics, statues, and sutras placed when the pagoda was built.

Thomas Child / Stephan Loewentheil Historical Photography of China Collection / Courtesy of the Sidney Mishkin Gallery