Lot 37: THOMAS EAKINS (1844-1916) Series of 7 photographs from the Naked Series, with a female model wearing a blindfold.

Swann Auction Galleries

October 25, 2016
New York, NY, US

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Description: THOMAS EAKINS (1844-1916)
Series of 7 photographs from the Naked Series, with a female model wearing a blindfold. Albumen prints, each image measuring 2 3/4x1 inches (7x2.5 cm.), overall size 2 3/4x7 1/4 inches (7x19.7 cm.), the original blue mount 3x10 inches (7.6x25.4 cm.), with Olympia Galleries' notation O-55-3310, in pencil, on mount verso. Circa 1883
Notes: A scarce photograph from Eakins' Naked Series. The artwork was acquired from Olympia Galleries by Robert Chaddell, a Private Collector.

The groundbreaking show of Thomas Eakins' photographs exhibited at the Olympia Gallery in 1976, brought to light a small body of superb vintage photographic prints created by the great American painter in 1883. The photograph offered in this lot originally belonged to Edward H. Coates, a main-line Philadelphian who was Chairman of the Committee of Instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art's Board of Directors during Eakins' tenure as a popular instructor. (Eakins later became director of the schools.)

Nineteenth-century European painters and sculptors artists regularly sourced photographs of nude models as documentary aids. Eakins, however, created his own photographic images to encourage students to develop a deeper understanding of human anatomy. His experimentation with photography was at the height of the Victorian era, when strictures governing public behavior, especially for women, were rigid. Although art classes were gender segregated, his use of both nude female and male students as models was considered unorthodox if not downright radical.

Understandably, most of the photographic studies Eakins produced depicted young naked men. (Although the blindfold was intended to insure anonymity, men did not sport the covering.) By 1886, his nude photographs resulted in a public scandal which forced him to resign from the institution. In addition the controversy resulted in a major setback for his career and a lifelong rift with his in-laws, the MacDowells.

Eakins' female nudes are rare, which historian and specialist Lloyd Goodrich has attributed to "the prudery of Eakins' period and environment." In a published letter that appears in the Sotheby's Park Bernet auction catalog of November 10, 1977, in which twenty-one photographs from the Collection of Joseph Seraphin (a co-owner of the Olympia Gallery) were offered, Goodrich adds, "In view of Eakins' great interest in the nude, it has been puzzling that only four or five photographs of female models have been published, by contrast with many of male nudes. One suspected that the female figure played a larger role in his photography than the few surviving works would indicate."

The uncredited author of an essay in the catalog identified a possible reason for the scarcity of Eakins' female nude studies as follows, ". . . extant examples of female nudes were destroyed after Susan MacDowell Eakins' death by a friend who, apparently, was sensitive to how these images had compromised Eakins' reputation."
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