Félix Bonfils

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Félix Bonfils
Felix Bonfils-self portrait.jpg
Félix Bonfils, self-portrait
Félix Adrien Bonfils

(1831-03-08)8 March 1831
Died9 April 1885(1885-04-09) (aged 54)
Alès, France
OccupationPhotographer and publisher
Years activeespecially from 1867 to his death
Known forearly Middle East photography
Spouse(s)Marie-Lydie Cabanis (1837-1918) (m. 1857)

Félix Adrien Bonfils (8 March 1831 – 1885) was a French photographer and writer who was active in the Middle East. He was one of the first commercial photographers to produce images of the Middle East on a large scale and amongst the first to employ a new method of colour photography, developed in 1880.

Life and career[edit]

Bonfils was born in Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort and died in Alès. As a young man he worked as a bookbinder.[1] In 1860, he joined General d'Hautpoul's expedition to the Levant, [2] organised by France following the massacre of Christians in the civil conflict between Christians and Druze in Mount Lebanon and Damascus. On his return to France, it is thought that Bonfils was taught the heliogravure printing process by Abel Niépce de Saint-Victor and opened a printing office in Alès in 1864.[1][2] Soon after returning from Lebanon, he became a photographer.

In 1857, he married Marie-Lydie Cabanis. When his son, Adrien, fell ill, Bonfils remembered the green hills around Beirut and sent him there to recover, accompanied by his mother.[1] The family moved to Beirut in 1867 where they opened a photographic studio called "Maison Bonfils".[3][4]

Maison Bonfils produced thousands of photographs of the Middle East. Bonfils worked with both his wife and his son. Their studio became "F. Bonfils et Cie" in 1878. They photographed landscapes, portraits, posed scenes with subjects dressed up in Middle Eastern regalia, and also stories from the Bible.[3] Bonfils took photographs in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Greece and Constantinople (now Istanbul).[4] While Bonfils produced the vast majority of his work, his wife, Lydie, and son Adrien were also involved in photography produced by the studio. As few are signed, it is difficult to identify who is responsible for individual photographs.[2] Lydie is thought to have taken some of the studio portraits, especially those of Middle Eastern women, who were more inclined to pose for a female photographer.[5] Adrien became more involved in the landscape photography at age 17, when Félix returned to Alès to have compiled collections of their photographs published and then to open a collotype printing factory.[6] Félix died in Alès on the 9th of April 1855.

Bonfils was amongst the first photographers to employ the new technique of Photochrom, a photographic colour printing technique, developed in 1880. [7] Maison Bonfils was one of the most prolific studios in the Middle East in the late 19th-century.[8] After Félix's death, the studio continued to produce photographs by the Bonfils family, first under Adrien's management, then Lydie's, until her death in 1918.[9]


Cover of Souvenirs d'Orient, 1878 by Félix Bonfils

After settling in the Near East, Bonfils took some panoramic photographs of Constantinople and Damascus.[10] His work became well known among the tourists that travelled to those countries because they bought photographs as souvenirs. In 1872 he published the album Architecture Antique (by Ducher press) after presenting some of his pictures to the Société française de photographie. He later re-opened a studio in Alès (France) from which he would publish Souvenirs d'Orient; his best-known work.[11]

Select list of publications

  • Bonfils, F., Architecture antique : Égypte, Grèce, Asie Mineure, 1872
  • Bonfils, F., Catalogue de vues photographiques de l'Orient, 1876
  • Bonfils, F., Souvenirs d'Orient, 1878
  • Bonfils, F. (with Adrien & Lydie Bonfils), Photographs of the Middle East, circa 1860s-1900s

Selected photographs

Select list of institutions holding his work[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hannavy, J. (2013). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. p. 173.
  2. ^ a b c Chemali, Yasmine (7 March 2014). "The Good Woman named Bonfils". British Library Endangered Archives Programme. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Aerial Panoramic View of Beirut". World Digital Library. 1867. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  4. ^ a b Szegedy-Maszak, Andrew (May–June 2001). "The Genius of Félix Bonfils". Archaeology. 54 (3).
  5. ^ Hannavy, J., Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Routledge, 2013, p. 174
  6. ^ Gavin, Carney E. S. (1978). "Bonfils and the early photography of the Near East". Harvard Library Bulletin. XXVI (4): 461. Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  7. ^ Farbige Reise, Paris bibliothèques, 2009, p. 41
  8. ^ Vogelsang-Eastwood, G., For Modesty's Sake? Barjesteh, Meeuwes & Company, 1996, p. 163
  9. ^ Rockett, William H. (1983). "The Bonfils Story". Saudi Aramco World. 34 (6). Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  10. ^ "Collections Search Center, Smithsonian Institution". Collections.si.edu. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  11. ^ Hannavy, J., Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Routledge, 2013, p. 173
  12. ^ "Brooklyn Museum". www.brooklynmuseum.org. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  13. ^ "Felix Bonfils". FAMSF Search the Collections. 21 September 2018. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  14. ^ "Felix Bonfils". www.ou.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  15. ^ "Middle East and Islamic Photographs". Harvard Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Félix Bonfils (French, 1831 - 1885) (Getty Museum)". The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  17. ^ "Tyr., Vue générale, Palestine, Félix Bonfils ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art". collections.artsmia.org. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  18. ^ "Central aisle of the hypostyle hall, Karnak, Egypt". art.nelson-atkins.org. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  19. ^ "The Fouad Debbas Collection". Sursock Museum. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  20. ^ "The Fouad Debbas Collection: assessment and digitisation of a precious private collection. Photographs from Maison Bonfils (1867-1910s), Beirut, Lebanon (EAP644)". British Library Endangered Archives Programme. 6 September 2017. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  21. ^ "Exchange|Search: artist:"Felix Bonfils"". exchange.umma.umich.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  22. ^ "Karnak Ruines du temples Amonphis". Digital Collections. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  23. ^ Museum, Victoria and Albert. "Photograph | Felix Bonfils | V&A Explore The Collections". Victoria and Albert Museum: Explore the Collections. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  24. ^ "Charette transportant des femmes arabes (Primary Title) - (2014.220)". Virginia Museum of Fine Arts |. Retrieved 22 February 2021.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Carney, G., The Image of the East: Nineteenth-Century Near-Eastern Photographs by Bonfils,[From the Collection of the Harvard Semitic Museum], Chicago/London. University of Chicago Press, 1982