Rare vintage photograph saved for public

  • 21 November 2010

We've helped Bradford's National Media Museum buy a rare vintage photograph by acclaimed British photographer Roger Fenton (1819 - 1869).

Pasha and Bayadère depicts a dancing girl (bayadère) performing for the enjoyment of a high ranking official (pasha), who watches her intently. Seated on the floor on the left hand side of the Pasha, a musician plays a stringed instrument.

The exotic tableau was taken in 1858. It captures the contemporary fascination with the Orient and is part of a series of photographs Fenton took after an expedition during the Crimean War.

Despite appearances, it is not a documentary image taken by Fenton during his travels. The work is in fact a carefully staged tableau photographed in Fenton’s north London studio using costumes, props and a hired model. Fenton himself appears as the Pasha. The musician is played by the English landscape painter Frank Dillon.

Pasha and Bayadère is widely regarded as one of Fenton’s finest works. The photograph is one of only two examples of this image, the other being in the Special Collections of the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. The Getty’s version is uncropped and believed to be a proof, making this version, cropped for exhibition, unique. The photograph’s provenance makes it even more interesting. It was passed down from the painter, Dillon, via his descendents to the previous owners.

Our director Stehpen Deuchar said: “This captivating tableau is of huge importance to the display and study of photography in the UK. The intriguing interplay between the characters and Fenton’s visual trickery are sure to fascinate viewers, helping bring a wider understanding of nineteenth century art and culture. We’re thrilled that we’ve helped the museum raise enough money to acquire Pasha and Bayadère for its collection where it will be appreciated alongside other masterpieces by Fenton and his contemporaries.”

Roger Fenton (1819-1869) is one of the most important and highly regarded British photographers of the nineteenth century. Best known for his photographs of the Crimean War, his output was extremely varied, ranging from landscapes and architectural views to portraits, still lifes and tableaux vivants. During a photographic career which only lasted just over a decade he mastered every genre which he attempted.