China through the lens of John Thomson 1868 - 1872

5 February to 6 June 2010

Please note that this exhibition has now closed

archive photo of Chinese woman in traditional costume

A Manchu bride, Beijing 1871-2.
© The Wellcome Library, London

This was the first exhibition in England of photographs of 19th century China taken by the legendary Scottish photographer and travel writer John Thomson (1837-1921).

Unlike most photographers working in the Far East at that time, Thomson was not a government official, nor a missionary. He was a professional photographer who was fascinated by China. Thomson possessed an open mind and was sensitive to the lives and surroundings of his subjects. He was able to capture people and street life in a most natural way. His photographs therefore form a unique archive documenting 19th century China's landscapes, architecture, people and customs.

Background information

Image gallery

Thomson's collection of 650 glass plate negatives is now housed in the Wellcome Collection Library, London. This exhibition of almost 150 prints from the collection was shown in venues across China in 2009 before coming to Liverpool. Following the Merseyside Maritime Museum it toured to Hartlepool in late 2010 and The Burrell Collection in early 2011.