Carleton E. Watkins

Timothy o' Sullivan

William Henry Jackson

John K. Hillers

Frederick I. Monsen

Edward S. Curtis

Maison Bonfils

Felice A. Beato

Felice A. Beato (ca. 1825–1908) was the most-celebrated of 19th century photographers in Japan. A naturalized English subject born in Venice, he led a colorful life. Beginning in 1850, he worked with his brother-in-law, James Robertson, in the Mediterranean (Constantinople, Athens, Malta, Cairo, and Palestine). One of the first war photographers, Beato documented the Crimean War (1855), the Indian Mutiny (1858), China (where he was the first photographer, in 1860), and the Sudan (1885).

Although not the very first to photograph in Japan—the first studios opened in the late 1850s—Beato was the first to work extensively in the country. He ran a studio in Yokohama from 1863 to 1877. After leaving the country in 1884, he opened a furniture and curio business in Burma. Beato’s residence in Japan coincided with a period of rapid modernization during the Meiji period, 1868–1912.

Employing a documentary style, Beato’s work encompassed studio portraits, landscapes, and scenes from daily life. Most of his portraits are hand-colored, a practice that he introduced to Japan. The photo of the artist is, in fact, the man who was responsible for coloring Beato’s pictures. Inspired perhaps by woodblock prints, Beato produced a series of photos of the Tokaido Road, running between Kyoto and Tokyo (Edo).

While undocumented in museum catalogues, these photographs have been attributed to Beato by their similarity to known examples of his work. Attribution of 19th century Japanese photographs is particularly difficult because of the multiple sales of studios, the continual printing from earlier negatives, and the frequent lack of labeling. Phoebe Hearst, the donor of these pictures, probably purchased them from one of Beato’s successor firms.