A fundamental book on Egypt: the first illustrated catalogue of the first Egyptian Museum

Mariette-Bey, Auguste. Album du musée du Boulaq comprenant quarante planches photographiées par MM. Delié et Béchard, avec un texte explicatif rédigé par Auguste Mariette-Bey.

Cairo, Mourès & Cie, 1872.

Folio. 3 unnum. leaves, 40 original photographs on albumenized paper (approx. 245 x 180 mm) on stiff cardboard mounted on hinges, and 42 unnum. leaves of explanations. Publisher's half brown hard-grained morocco, blind stamped calico boards, with gilt title and figures, raised bands. Edges gilt.


Beautiful photographic album made in Cairo, the first illustrated catalogue of the first Egyptian Museum. While copies dated 1871 exist, both copies preserved in the French National Library bear the date 1872. The photographs by Hippolyte Délié and Émile Béchard show the halls and antiques of the Bulaq Museum, founded in Cairo in 1863 by the great Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (1821-81). The Museum was created by Auguste Mariette, who in 1858, following his appointment as head of the Antiquities Service, moved the banks of the Nile, in Bulaq, where he assigned four rooms in his residence for exhibitions. Mariette obtained permission to settle in Bulaq in the abandoned offices of the River Company. On these dilapidated premises, where he lived with his family, the "Director of the Historical Monuments of Egypt and the Cairo Museum" converted the first four exhibition halls with the assistance of his faithful assistants Bonnefoy and Floris. The period photographs, published in this 'Album du musée de Boulaq', show the low buildings by the river, almost completely devastated during the flood of 1878. In the preface dated November 1, 1871, Mariette explains the origins of this monumental album: "Mr. Hippolyte Délié and Mr. Béchard requested permission from the Directorate of the Bulaq Museum to reproduce by photography some of the monuments on display in our galleries. Not only the application [...] was explicitly welcomed, but the Director of the Museum feels he must promote the work of the great photographers from Cairo, opening up for them the cabinets of the Museum and choosing among the objects it contains those that appeared to him most worthy of inclusion in the proposed Album. Mr. Délié and Mr. Béchard have followed, for the classification and arrangement of their proofs, the order adopted in the Notice sommaire, which is for sale at the entrance of the Museum. The three plates showing the interior and exterior of the Museum serve as an introduction to the Album. The monuments are then classified into religious, funerary, civilians, historical, Greek and Roman sections. The photographic Album [...] is thus an illustrated catalogue of the Museum. The remarkable execution of the plates allows us also to recommend to everyone this album by Mr. Délié and Mr. Béchard. Travelers will indeed use it as a souvenir of their visit to the Bulaq Museum. Scholars will find the hieroglyphic texts reproduced with such clarity as if they were in direct presence of the monuments. Finally artists will not study from any other work on Egyptology as well as from the beautiful proofs delivered from the apparatus used by Mr. Délié and Mr. Béchard, the difficult problems that relate to the history of art in Egypt". The French photographer Émile Béchard was active during the years 1869-90: "Béchard arrived in Egypt probably together with his partner Délié. He collaborated with him in the production of the Album du Musée Boulaq and in the carte de visite photographs of native types and costumes. There is little information on the life of Béchard. It is known that he was awarded a first class gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1878 in Paris, and his images appear in many of the travel and topographic albums until almost the end of the century. His major achievement was no doubt his monumental album of photographs of the most important archaeological sites and antiquities of Egypt […]. It is worthy to note that Béchard did have a great deal of talent in picturing architecture. The neatness of the execution and printing of the final image adds tremendously to the monumentality he was able to reflect in them" (cf. Perez, p. 123). "Délié arrived in Egypt the year the Suez Canal was opened and settled in Cairo. Until the mid-1870s he was in partnership with Émile Béchard. The two collaborated on a major photography album on the Boulaq Museum that was very highly praised as one of the most luxurious and finely printed books of the period. […] Délié's photographs were known already in 1869, and some of them were used that early for woodcuts illustrating articles in Le Tour du Monde. In 1876, he became a member of the Société Française de Photographie, and in 1878 he was awarded a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. For some reason, Délié's images, although equal in quality, are much rarer than those by Béchard, even though both continued to work after they dissolved their partnership. His photographs are exclusively of Egypt, mainly ruins, antiquities, and cityscapes, with a few genre studies" (p. 153f.). Perez also devotes a long notice to the archaeological activity of Mariette, a familiar to photography: "Best known as Mariette Bey, this famous Egyptologist became an archaeologist almost by chance. He was a young schoolteacher in the provincial town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, writing bad novels and chairing the local fishing-club, when he happened across the papers of a relative, Nestor L'Hote. L'Hote's writings of Egypt aroused Mariette's interest, and he turned to the study of Coptic writings and hieroglyphs. He published a number of papers that attracted the attention of Charles Lenormant, who sent him to Egypt in 1850 to hunt down Coptic manuscripts, which were at the time actively collected by British scholars. He remained in Egypt four years, during which time he realized the importance of finding and saving the archaeological treasures still buried in Egypt. Mariette shared his conviction with Ferdinand de Lesseps, whom he met in 1857. The latter appealed to the Viceroy of Egypt, and Mariette was appointed head of the department of Antiquities, a post he created and held until his death in Cairo in 1881. During his years there he displayed an unusual instinct in finding excavation sites; his contribution to Egyptology is invaluable. He was also founder of the Boulaq museum. Photography became an inseparable part of his activity. He mainly employed professional photographers such as Délié, Béchard, and Brugsch, but he himself also photographed, using an 8x10'' camera, newly found artefacts and ancient structures in remote parts of the Egyptian desert. It is interesting to note that, although technically not perfect, Mariette's photographs have a certain precision of angle and composition that makes the image 'right' and authentic. This is no doubt the result of his love and understanding of the objects he was photographing" (p. 194).

Spine scuffed, some foxing.

Cf. Nissan N. Perez, Focus East, 1988. On Mariette cf. also J.-M. Carré, "Voyageurs et écrivains français en Égypte", p. 223-249.