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Canton, Kwangtung province, China: a Cantonese mandarin official. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869.

  • Thomson, J. (John), 1837-1921.
  • Pictures

Selected images from this work

About this work


A man seated in an interior, holding a pipe, at his feet a leopard-skin rug. A white masking frame appears between the centre and the periphery of the photograph, around the sitter, marking the area for reproduction

A fine example of John Thomson’s work as portrait photographer. The subject looks directly at the camera, the pose in which all 'men of taste' in China would like to be photographed. However, there is a shadow hiding half of the man’s face, a chiaroscuro art technique not acceptable for portraiture in China at the time: while trying to adapt to Chinese taste, Thomson did not always conform. According to Thomson this man was a sixth-grade mandarin official and a man of letters who possessed two degrees in imperial examinations. He is dressed in official costume, which corresponds to his rank. Although his salary from the government might be small, with bribery and extortion he could earn up to ten or even 100 times the amount of his official pay



Physical description

1 photograph : glass photonegative, wet collodion ; glass approximately 30.5 x 25.5 cm (12 x 10 in.)


Cantonese mandarin. Mandarin in mufti


This is one of a collection of original glass negatives made by John Thomson. The negatives, made between 1868 and 1872, were purchased from Thomson by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1921

References note

John Thomson, part within the frame, Illustrations of China and its people, London, 1873-4, vol. I, pl. XXII, as "A Cantonese gentleman"
China through the lens of John Thomson, 1868-1872, Beijing: Beijing World Art Museum, 2009, p. 119 (reproduced)

Lettering note

Bears Thomson's negative number: "650"


Wellcome Library no. 19546i


  • English

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