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Šiauliai “Aušros” museum has significantly supplemented the collections of one of its subdivisions – Photography Museum. A unique collection of photographs by the count Benediktas Tiškevičius was purchased.
Benediktas Henrikas Tiškevičius (1852–1935), the count of Raudondvaris manor, a collector, patron, traveller and photographer, is an exceptional, yet insufficiently known personality of Lithuanian cultural history. Tiškevičius was an extraordinary figure in the art of photography, one of the pioneers of art photography and the first traveller-photographer of Lithuania. The photographs of his travelling round Algeria, exhibited in 1876 at the World Exhibition in Philadelphia (USA) and which won a gold medal, are considered to be the first known photographs of the travel reportage genre in Lithuania. Since 1884, he was a member of the French Society of Photographers, since 1898 – a member of the prestigious Paris Photo Club. Between 1894 and1902, he participated in the exhibitions in Lviv, Berlin (in 1899 in Berlin he was awarded a gold medal for directing compositions), Warsaw, Vilnius, and his photographs were published in the representative publications of the Paris Photo Club.
Tiškevičius’ creation included reportages about his extensive travels in different countries of the world and peculiar artistic compositions where he photographed staged genre scenes and monumental portraits of various eras at his summer residence in Viala (now Belarus territory) and at the photo studio in Paris. Many of these compositions were created between 1890 and 1899. The pictorialist works of art photography made the photographer famous in the international art community of his contemporaries and attracted attention of contemporary art critics.
It is paradoxical and at the same time regular that the French were the first to discover Tiškevičius in nowadays. His name became better known in Lithuania after this when in 1993 in France Nicephore Niepce museum, named after the world’s first inventor of photography, had purchased the largest collection of works by the author in that time (86 pieces glued on 46 cardboard sheets), organized an exhibition and published a booklet presenting the collection. In addition, it appeared that a small collection of Tiškevičius’ works was also preserved in Poland, at the Royal Castle Museum in Warsaw, and some of his works were preserved at the Orse Museum, the French National Library in Paris and private collections abroad. The collection of Nicephore Niepce museum was soon presented in exhibitions in Vilnius and Kaunas, the publication “Tyszkiewicz” (Publishing House: Baltos lankos, 2002) and Dr. Aldona Snitkuvienė’s book “Raudondvaris. The Counts Tiškevičiai and their Legacy” (Vilnius, 1998) were published.
It seemed that there was enough information about Tiškevičius and his works, and no new discoveries were expected, as it was believed that all of the count’s works were devastated during the fires in studios and laboratories in Paris and Viala. However, at the end of 2018, several hundred works of B.H. Tiškevičius were returned to Lithuania, that significantly have broadened the scope and significance of the author’s works.
A large part of this collection, with the support of the Lithuanian Council for Culture, was purchased by Šiauliai “Aušros” museum for the collections of its subdivision – Photography Museum. The collection consists of 27 sheets of cardboard, probably separate sheets from former albums, on which 93 photographs of various formats of albumen are glued. On the sheets there are French entries made by the author, indicating the date, places and names of the photographs taken. The core of the collection purchased by the museum consists of the stage scenes in the style of so-called Imperial and 1830s epochs, that were performed in pictorializm stylistics – the direction of art photography which was prevailing at the end of the 19th century in West Europe. The photographs were probably taken between 1897 and 1899 in Tiškevičius’ studio in Paris. Some of the purchased works were published in illustrating a chapter of “Interior Photography” in the prestigious Paris Photo Club’s publication “Esthetique de la photographie” (compiled by Paul Bourgeois, Paris, 1900), which can be considered as a chrestomathy or manifesto of French pictorialism of the end of the 19th century and which reflected the basic principles, artistic aspirations, and works of the artists creating in this style. Tiškevičius’ works in this publication are in line with the names of French pictorialism classics, such as Puyo, Demachy and others, and present him as one of the representatives of then elite of pictorialists. In the context of Lithuanian photography of that time, it was a new creation that was not practiced by any of those photographic artists. He was the first in Lithuania to move away from documentary, reportage content in photography and conceptually realized his creative concept by constructing a peculiar photographic reality. The other part of the collection consists of hunting scenes in 1897 at Viala manor, also photographs of travel reportages by Tiškevičius of the year 1891–1897, among them is the largest group of Nice reportage photographs in 1892, as well as the images of other places (Amsterdam, Garbow in Poland, Vesuvius), photographs of the count himself and his relatives.