China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872

17/10/2020 – 22/08/2021

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872
This exhibition displays images of China taken by the Scottish photographer John Thomson (1837-1921). Born in Edinburgh two years before the invention of the daguerreotype and the birth of photography, Thomson first travelled to Asia in 1862, where he set up a professional photographic studio. Fascinated by local cultures, Thomson returned in 1868 and settled in Hong Kong. Over the next four years he made extensive trips to Guangdong, Fujian, Beijing, China’s north-east and down the great river Yangzi. This exhibition is drawn from his time in these regions and also includes objects from the museum’s decorative arts and ceramic collections. By the time of Thomson’s travels, certain motifs and stories associated with long life had become well-established themes in the arts in China. Several of these themes are represented in the exhibition, including immortals and mythological figures inspired by Buddhism, Daoism and Chinese mythology.

Thomson’s ground-breaking work in China established him as a serious pioneer of photojournalism and one of the most influential photographers of his generation. This exhibition seeks to show the great diversity of the photographs that Thomson took in China. What marked his work as special was the desire to present a faithful account of China and its people. Thomson wanted to show his audience the human aspects of life in China through his extensive record of everyday street scenes – rarely captured by other photographers of that era.

A five minute tour of the exhibition, China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery from 17th October 2020 – 16th May 2021.

This internationally acclaimed touring exhibition of photographic prints made from the original 19th-century glass negatives from the renowned collections at the Wellcome Library, London has been seen by almost a million visitors in 24 cities around the world including Beijing, Hong Kong, Washington DC, Dublin, Stockholm. This 5 minute tour of the exhibition offers an overview of the beautiful and sensitive photography of the 19th-century pioneer Scottish photo-journalist, John Thomson (1837-1921). Thomson’s photographs are complemented by a display of Chinese artefacts selected from the museums’ own collections; these include 18th and 19th-century jade and ivory carvings, embroidered textiles and ceramics.

An introduction to the exhibition, China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 with Arts Curator, Samantha Howard.

Thomson’s photographs capture a rare moment in time and place – the long-lost world of 19th-century Imperial China. Thomson made extensive trips to Guangdong, Fujian, Beijing, China’s north-east and down the great river Yangzi. The exhibition is drawn from Thomson’s travels in these regions. People from all works of life, rarely captured by other photographers of that era, are represented here: the young and the old, from the street sellers and soldiers, to powerful Mandarin bureaucrats and shy brides, pose before backdrops of streets, back yards and gardens, palaces and pagodas.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 – symbolic themes in ivory and jade objects.

By the time of Thomson’s travels, certain motifs and stories associated with long life had become well-established themes in the arts in China. Several of these themes are represented in the exhibition, including immortals and mythological figures inspired by Buddhism, Daoism and Chinese mythology. Join Arts Curator, Samantha Howard, for a bite-size talk about the representation of Shou Xing, the Daoist God of Longevity.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 – Chinese ceramics in the exhibition with Ceramics Curator, Miranda Goodby

An introduction to some of the Chinese ceramics from the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery’s collection displayed in the exhibition, with a brief look at their impact on British pottery makers from the 18th century onwards. The Chinese wares include those made for export to the West as well as some examples made for the Chinese market.

China: Through the Lens of John Thomson 1868-1872 – Minton pottery in the exhibition with Ceramics Curator, Miranda Goodby

In the 1870s the Minton factory of Stoke-on-Trent produced a large number of decorative pieces inspired by Chinese metalwork, including cloisonné. This film looks at some of these pieces in the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery’s collection, several of which were made for the International Exhibitions of the period, and some of which were donated to the museum by the Minton firm.