Vintage: Portraits of Vietnamese People by Émile Gsell (1880s)

Vintage: Portraits of Vietnamese People by Émile Gsell (1880s)

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Émile Gsell was born in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Haut-Rhin, France on 31 December 1838. He served in the military from 1858 to 1866, during which time he learned photography and travelled to Cochin China (now Southern Vietnam).

In Cochin China, Gsell was hired by the Commission d’exploration du Mékong, directed by Ernest Doudart de Lagrée (b. 1823 – d. 1868), to photograph the ruins of Angkor. Gsell accompanied the expedition to Cambodia and Siam (now Thailand, and at the time in possession of Angkor) from June to September or October 1866, often receiving suggestions for photographic points of view from Doudart de Lagrée.

Also in 1866, following the expedition, Gsell established himself as a commercial photographer in Saigon, becoming the first professional photographer to do so in that city.
Group portrait of Doudart de Lagrée and other members of the Commission d’exploration du Mékong, Angkor Wat, Siam (now in Cambodia), 1866. Albumen print by Emile Gsell.

In the first half of 1873 Gsell returned to Angkor and travelled through Cambodia with Louis Delaporte. On the strength of his Cambodian photographs Gsell was awarded a medal of merit at the Vienna International Exhibition, which was held from 1 May to the 31 October 1873 and during which Gsell exhibited two albums of photographs, one of the ruins of Angkor and the other of “the mores, customs, and types of the Annamite and Cambodian populations”.

In April 1875, Gsell accompanied a mission, led by Brossard de Corbigny, to Huế, though he was not allowed to photograph the people he met nor the Citadel. However, two of his photographs demonstrate that he was in Hanoi at the end of 1875 and from November 1876 to January 1877 Gsell was able to take many views of Tonkin (now Northern Vietnam).

Gsell’s photographs were marketed by Auguste Nicolier, who sold chemicals and photographic supplies in Saigon from 1876.

Emile Gsell died at home in Saigon on 16 October 1879. After his death, O. Wegener succeeded Gsell, obtaining and using his stock in the early 1880s then passing it on to Vidal (also known as Salin-Vidal) who marketed it under the names Vidal and Salin-Vidal until his own death in 1883.

Portrait of a dramatics artist, 1880

Portrait of a dramatics artist, 1880

A governor in Saigon, 1880

A governor in Saigon, 1880

An Annamese bearer, 1880

An Annamese bearer, 1880

A beautiful Annamese girl, 1880.

A beautiful Annamese girl, 1880.

Portrait of an Annamese girl, 1880

Portrait of an Annamese girl, 1880

An Annamese woodcutter, 1880

An Annamese woodcutter, 1880

Portrait of an Annamese young lady, 1880

Portrait of an Annamese young lady, 1880

Two S'Tieng ethnic men in the Central Highlands, 1880

Two S’Tieng ethnic men in the Central Highlands, 1880

A rich man in Cochinchina with his horse and servants, 1886

A rich man in Cochinchina with his horse and servants, 1886

A governor in Cho Lon district, 1880

A governor in Cho Lon district, 1880

Annamese musicians in Saigon, 1886

Annamese musicians in Saigon, 1886

Fruit sellers in Saigon, 1886

Fruit sellers in Saigon, 1886

A beautiful Cochinchine woman, 1886

A beautiful Cochinchine woman, 1886

A Saigon girl, 1880

A Saigon girl, 1880

A wealthy Annamese woman and her daughter, 1880

A wealthy Annamese woman and her daughter, 1880

Portrait of a wealthy family with servant man behind, 1880

Portrait of a wealthy family with servant man behind, 1880

A young Chinese man in Saigon, 1880

A young Chinese man in Saigon, 1880

A young water-carrier in Saigon, 1880

A young water-carrier in Saigon, 1880

An Annamese man with his umbrella, 1880

An Annamese man with his umbrella, 1880

Portrait of a Chinese lady in Saigon, 1880

Portrait of a Chinese lady in Saigon, 1880


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