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December 25, 2020

Extraordinary Portraits of a Very Young Evelyn Nesbit Taken by Rudolf Eickemeyer in the Early 1900s

Evelyn Nesbit (1884–1967) was known to millions before her 16th birthday in 1900. She was the most photographed woman of her era, an iconic figure who set the standard for female beauty.


In the early part of the 20th century, her figure and face was everywhere, appearing in mass circulation newspaper and magazine advertisements, on souvenir items and calendars, making her a cultural celebrity. She was a popular cover face on Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, The Delineator, Women’s Home Companion, Ladies’ Home Journal and Cosmopolitan.

These extraordinary photos were taken by Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. (1862–1932), who started taking photographs in 1884 while working at his father’s engineering firm. In 1889, he joined the local camera club in Yonkers, New York, and began contributing articles on photographic chemistry, lighting and technique to journals like the Photographic Times. He was famous among his contemporaries for his portraits of high-society women, most notably model and singer Evelyn Nesbit.

Eickemeyer turned professional in 1896, relying on commercial work for financial support while continuing to develop his skills as an art photographer. He gained critical acclaim in America and Europe for his landscape and portrait photography.

Eickemeyer used a wide variety of printing processes, printing out some negatives in more than one medium. In his lectures, he pointed out that this approach to photography was important because in the hands of a photographer who “lives and understands the infinitely varied moods of nature, photography can be made to express and interpret them.” In correspondence with Dr. Olmstead at the Smithsonian, as the presentation of his gifts and bequest to the museum was being arranged, Eickemeyer wrote: “The collection illustrates the use of every important process and will, I believe, be of real educational value.”
 




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