PORTRAITS

Tea and scandal: Partial to portraits


Here a portrait, there a portrait…, for most of us the simple snapshot is the most common form of photographic portrait. In fact, the digital age has made capturing a ‘likeness’ so simple that most of us undertake the task without considering the product a portrait at all.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries however, portraiture was a far more deliberate affair and formal, studio produced photographic portraits enjoyed great popularity. As is the case today, the taking of photographs was often linked to a special occasion or significant event such as a betrothal, marriage or departure for war, a new addition to a family or milestone birthday. The technical realities of the studio usually ensured that subjects were recorded at their best; well dressed, flatteringly posed and in elegant surrounds.

The three most common formats, carte-de-visites, cabinet prints and Paris panels could be distributed via the post as well as hand to hand and in later years, people were also able to have their portraits produced as postcards. As war, exploration, travel for pleasure and emigration began to touch the lives of greater numbers of people, photographic portraits became an important means of visual communication. Across vast distances, a photograph could reassure, comfort, inform and amuse as well as impart a sense of who the subject was or aspired to be.

Within this context, discovering a large number of portrait photographs depicting a particular extended family group should not be surprising. Even so, the private archive with which tandscandal is concerned does seem to be rather portrait heavy.

This circumstance began to make some sense when it emerged that a member of the family was himself a professional photographer. Under his influence it would appear that a penchant for portraiture developed, along with an occasionally curious blend of informal formality.

Partial to portraits: Blame it on Adrien

Lind and Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon
Adrien Bonfils and Marielie Saalmüller Bonfils with three of their children:
Marcelle, Lucienne, and Reneé Bonfils, cabinet print
(1907)
albumen print
14.1 x 10.3 cm (image and sheet), 16.7 x 10.9 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

In 1867 the photography studio known as Maison Bonfils was established in Beirut, Lebanon by Felix Bonfils (1831–1885) and Marie-Lydie Cabanis Bonfils (1837–1918). Following Felix’s death, their son Adrien Bonfils (1861–1929) took over the business. By the turn of the century however, his thoughts were beginning to turn toward an alternative career path.

Several miles outside the city of Beirut, up in the surrounding mountains, lay the town of Brummana. Brummana was home to a Quaker mission settlement, founded by Theophilus Waldmeier and maintained with the assistance of his brother-in-law, Karl Saalmüller. The pair had married sisters in Ethiopia and while Theophius and Susan’s efforts were divided between the mission school and hospital, Karl and Mary combined their support of the mission with running an hotel. On the 1 June 1897, Karl and Mary’s youngest daughter, Marielie, married Adrien Bonfils. Within a decade they had four children and had themselves entered the fledgling hotelier industry in Brummana. Adrien’s photographic career ensured that their children were beautifully documented and by association, (for the children sometimes apparently under sufferance), Marielie’s extended family was motivated to sit for the camera also.

Group subject portraits


Maison Bonfils, Lebanon (attributed to)
Wega Saalmüller and Thomas Little on their wedding day, 17 November 1892
1892
albumen print
14.5 x 10.1 cm (image and sheet)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils (attributed to)
Wega Saalmüller and Thomas Little with their first child Sylvia Little
(1893/94)
albumen print
5.9 x 8.2 cm (image and sheet)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils (attributed to)
Wega Saalmüller Little, Sylvia Little and Thomas Little
(1896/97)
albumen print
14.7 x 10.1 cm (image and sheet)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon (attributed to)
Wega Saalmüller Little and Thomas Little with their three children:
Sylvia, infant Charles and Vera, cabinet print

1903
albumen print
14.0 x 10.0 cm (image and sheet), 18.4 x 13.2 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils (attributed to)
Karl Heinrich Saalmüller with his grandson Charles Little, cabinet print
(1905)
albumen print
13.4 x 10.0 cm (image and sheet), 18.2 x 13.1 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon (attributed to)
Vera, Charles and Sylvia Little, cabinet print
(1907)
albumen print
13.6 x 9.4 cm (image and sheet), 16.8 x 11.0 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Debenham and Gould, Bournemouth
Sylvia Little, Vera Little, Charles Little and Wega Saalmuller Little, postcard
(c. 1915)
gelatin silver print
13.6 x 8.5 cm (image and sheet)
Private collection, Australia

Galbenk, Beirut
Christopher Little and Ruth (Roslind) Trenaman Little
(c. 1944)
gelatin silver print
11.4 x 17.1 cm (image), 11.8 x 17.6 cm (sheet)
Private collection, Australia

Unknown photographer
Stefana Saalmüller Armbruster and Charles Hubert Armbruster, postcard
(1914–18)
gelatin silver print
8.8 x13.7 cm (image and sheet)
Private collection, Australia

Jules Lind, Beyrouth & Smyrne
Mary Beletetch Bell Saalmüller with three of her daughters
Stefana Armbruster, Wega Little and Marielie Bonfils

(1920s)
gelatin silver print
22.0 x 16.4 cm (image and sheet), 29.5 x 19.5 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Single subject portraits

Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon
Marielie Saalmüller Bonfils, cabinet print
(c. 1912)
albumen print
13.9 x 10.0 cm (image and sheet), 18.2 x 13.1 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon (attributed to)
Stefana Saalmuller (Knobel)
(late 1890s)
albumen print, gouache
10.8 x 7.9 cm (sight) (image), 16.3 x 13.3 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon (attributed to)
 Stefana Saalmuller (Knobel) in mourning dress, cabinet print
1908
albumen print
14.0 x 8.5 cm irreg. (image and sheet), 17.9 x 12.0 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Unknown photographer
 Stefana Saalmüller (Knobel)
(c. 1910)
albumen print
14.3 x 7.9 cm (image and sheet), 15.3 x 9.1 cm irreg. (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Guy & Co. Ltd, Cork
Stefana Saalmüller (Knobel)
(c. 1910)
albumen print
15.0 x 10.1 cm (image and sheet), 26.1 x 18.5 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon
Sarona Saalmüller (Mishahani)
(late 1890s)
albumen print
17.9 x 9.2 cm (image and sheet), 18.3 x 9.6 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

Adrien Bonfils, Lebanon (attributed to)
Sarona Saalmüller (Mishahani)
(late 1890s)
albumen print
16.6 x 11.7 cm (image and sheet), 25.0 x 20.0 cm (mount)
Private collection, Australia

by Pat Little
November 2011

Copyright ownership of post and page entries is retained by the author

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