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Hugo Carl Wilhelm Hummel was born in Weimar, Germany in 1862. He was born into a relatively successful family; his father was the famous German landscape painter Carl Hummel, and his grandfather was Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a piano virtuoso and composer who was personally mentored by Mozart. In his early life, Wilhelm displayed an aptitude for languages and chemistry. In February of 1888, at the age of 26, he was drafted into the Imperial Army as an infantryman. This would be his first introduction to international travel. It was sometime in 1890 that Hummel traveled to England, where he met Max Engelbert Adolph Holzapfel (b.1861). In 1881, Holzapfel, his brother Albert and a man named Charles Petrie founded Holzapfel Ltd., a company which produced marine anti-fouling coating. Wilhelm Hummel became their international correspondent later on in 1890. He also enrolled at Durham College, where he studied chemistry.
The element which gave the Holzapfel Company’s product its signature red pigment and anti-fouling property was called cinnabar, the mineral from which mercury is extracted. As the company grew, their demand for cinnabar did as well. Hummel frequently traveled to Turkey and Spain which, during the 19th and 20th centuries, had the most significant known deposits of cinnabar in the world. Ultimately, the demand began to exceed the output of the Turkish and Spanish mines, and so Hummel continued to travel to other locales such as Russia, Persia, North Africa and other parts of the Mediterranean in an attempt to source more mercury. It is these travels which are captured in his collection of photography, memorializing his visits to iconic locations such as the pyramids of Giza, the Parthenon, the Blue Mosque and many others. He was a man who clearly aimed to make the most of his unique opportunity to travel so extensively, and wanted to be able to share his experiences with others. Ongoing health concerns forced Hummel into early retirement, and he passed away in 1933 at his home in Florence, Italy.
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Created by Alexandra Moreau (July 2019). Revised by N. Courrier (July 2019).