British photographic history

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Fenton export bar for Crimean photograph

Culture Minister, Margaret Hodge, has placed a temporary export bar on a rare photograph by the pioneering nineteenth-century British photographer Roger Fenton. This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the photograph, titled Pasha and Bayadère, in this country.

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the photograph is of outstanding aesthetic importance and of outstanding significance for the study of the history of photography.

Roger Fenton (1819-69) was a highly-regarded British photographer and one of the first- ever war photographers.

Best known for his images of the Crimean War, he also produced landscapes, portraits, still-lives and tableaux vivants during a career which only lasted just over a decade. Pasha and Bayadère was created in 1858 as part of a series of about fifty Orientalist photographs inspired by Fenton’s expedition to the Crimea. These were an expression of a general craze for all things oriental that can be seen in European art in the second half of the nineteenth century and reflected the Victorian fascination with the ‘exotic’ Middle East. In the photo, staged in his London studio, Fenton himself appears as the ‘Pasha’ (a Turkish military or civil official), watching a bayadère, or dancing girl, perform. The role of the musician is played by the English landscape painter Frank Dillon.

The photograph is one of only two examples of this image, the other being in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The Getty’s version is uncropped and believed to be a proof, making this version, cropped for exhibition, in a sense unique. It was not intended to be a documentary image of daily life in Turkey or Egypt, but a fantasy about what the Orient stood for. Fenton’s aim was to marry the Orientalist subject matter popular in painting of the period with the new medium of photography to create a work of high art. Regarded as one of the best in his Orientalist series, and one of Fenton’s best works overall, Pasha and Bayadère is technically highly accomplished, with a strong composition and beautiful lighting.

Lord Inglewood, Chairman of the Reviewing Committee, said: “Photography is sometimes undervalued in this country, but Pasha and Bayadère demonstrates how the best photographs can hold their own aesthetically against other art forms. As well as being a remarkable image, the work is also important for the study of the history of photography. The fact that the Getty Museum chose to make their own version of this image the subject of a scholarly monograph shows just how highly Fenton’s work is regarded outside the UK.”

The decision on the export licence application for the photograph will be deferred for a period ending on 1 May 2010 inclusive. This period may be extended until 1 August 2010 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the photograph at the recommended price of £108,506 is expressed.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the photograph should contact the owner’s agent through:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Wellcome Wolfson Building
165 Queen’s Gate
South Kensington
London
SW7 5HD
Telephone 020 7273 8270

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Comment by Roman Kravchenko on May 3, 2010 at 14:26
For me very interesting inform! Thanks!

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