Biography and History

Félix Bonfils was born on 8 March 1831, in St. Hippolyte du Fort (Gard), France. He was initially trained as a bookbinder, but became an amateur photographer after a short tour of duty with the army in Lebanon (1860). This introduction to the Middle East and photography would soon combine to become Bonfils' destiny. When his young son, Adrien (b. 1861), suffered from respiratory problems, Bonfils' wife, Lydie (b. 1837), took the boy to recuperate in the dry, hot climate of Beirut. Lydie fell in love with Lebanon just as Bonfils' had, and by 1867 the family definitively moved to Beirut where Bonfils set up a photographic studio.

Maison Bonfils became a prolific studio, which, Bonfils bragged in 1871, produced 591 negatives from various sites along the eastern Mediterranean, 15,000 prints, and 9,000 stereoscopic views. Bonfils also published many albums focusing on a specific region or theme. His subjects included architectural details, monuments, and city views. These photographs were popular with the many travelers who began touring the region as an extension of the European Grand Tour. As a result of his success in Beirut, Bonfils went on to open a second studio in Alès, France.

Maison Bonfils was truly a family affair: Lydie assisted her husband and took studio portraits that formed part of the Bonfils photographic collection. After Bonfils' death in 1885 while working in Alès, Adrien returned to Beirut from military service in Algeria. He took over the studio, and, together with Lydie, continued his father's work, while also producing new images and engaging in new projects. But once Adrien's interest in photography waned, Lydie stepped in to run the studio alone. She carried on the tradition of her husband and son, and produced her own photographic catalog, until 1916 when World War I forced her to evacuate. Only two years later, in 1918, Lydie passed away; she was 81 years old. Adrien died in 1929. 1

Source: From the finding aid for C0942

  • Rudolf-Ernest Brünnow Papers. 1876-1897 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0396

    German Semitic philologist, Rudolf-Ernst Brünnow (1858-1917) was a professor of Semitics at Princeton (post-1910) in Greek, Latin, German, French, Turkish, Assyrian, and English. The collection consists of notes, photographs, inscriptions, tables, and descriptions by Brünnow.

  • Félix Bonfils Photographs Collection. 1867-1885 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0942

    The Félix Bonfils Photographs Collection consists of photographs taken by Bonfils in the second half of the 19th century of images and people in the eastern Mediterranean.