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Collection Overview

Bonfils, Félix, 1831-1885
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Félix Bonfils Photographs Collection
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
2 boxes and 1.8 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-2
English French


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.

Collection Description & Creator Information


The collction consists of an open collection of photographs of images and people in the eastern Mediterranean taken by Bonfils during the second half of the 19th century and published by his Maison Bonfils studio in Beirut, Lebanon. Included are a panorama of Beirut; a view of Athens, Greece; a panorama (3 parts) of Olympia; a panorama (3 parts) of Istanbul and the Golden Horn; a panorama of Athens (3 parts); and several photographs of women in their traditional dress. There are also two albumen prints--one image of the Erectheum and one image of the interior of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (27.4 x 37.7 cm.)--and a group of 56 captioned images of sites in Syria and Palestine.


This is a growing collection. Currently, the photographs are arranged by accession number, then by Bonfils photograph number.

Collection Creator Biography:

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

Collection History


Purchased from Bernard J. Shapero and Petros Vergos in 2003-2008.

Archival Appraisal Information:

No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Karla J. Vecchia in 2003. Finding aid written by Karla J. Vecchia in 2003.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Félix Bonfils Photographs Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184

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Related Material:

Approximately 850 additional Bonfils photographs are available in the Rudolf-Ernst Brunnow Papers (C0396). Additionally, there are 69 photographs by Bonfils in Photographs of Syria and Palestine, v. 2, located in the Graphic Arts Division.

Publication Note:

The biographical sketch was written by consulting the following sources: Bortot, M. Scott. "A Journey into a Preserved Past." Middle East Times. March 2003. Rockett, Will H. "The Bonfils Story: A Legacy of Light." Al Mashriq: The Levant. Editor, Borre Ludvigsen. March 2003. Szegedy-Maszak, Andrew. "The Genius of Félix Bonfils." Archaeology. 54, no. 3 (May/June 2001). March 2003.

Subject Terms:
Clothing and dress -- Middle East -- 19th century.
Women -- Middle East -- Photographs.
Genre Terms:
Panoramas -- Lebanon -- Beirut -- 19th century.
Photographs -- 19th century.
Maison Bonfils (Beirut, Lebanon)
Athens (Greece) -- Photographs.
Beirut (Lebanon) -- Photographs.
Greece -- Photographs.
Lebanon -- Photographs.
Middle East -- Photographs.
Palestine -- Photographs.
Syria -- Photographs.