Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eve with Snake, by Henri Manuel

Talk about a time machine.... The feel of the period derived from a card like this one is sensational. There is something about a fine photograph in natural sepia tones that is just so...wonderful. Images of Eve being tempted by the snake abound, being a favorite of artists of all ages, but rarely has Eve managed to look quite so humorously nonchalant about the encounter as she does in this image by Henri Manuel.

AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE Fabulous French Faux Nude with Snake, circa 1900, by Henri Manuel

This postcard, published about 1900, features a superbly naive image of an unidentified model  “en collant” (in a body stocking) with a really great snake! One has to wonder, when viewing an image of this kind, whether the goal was humor, titillation, gender politics, a biblical reference of any kind, or a mix of oh, so many things, but the quality of the image is undeniable. Her facial expression seems to us to say,  “Et alors! You think I can't handle this?”

This card was published by SIP (the Societe Industrielle de Photographie), one of the most prolific French postcard publishers at that time. The image was photographed by Henri Manuel, and given the age of the card (its production date, by its undivided back, is likely to have been before 1904), the photo would have been taken not long after Monsieur Manuel and his brother, Gaston (about whom we can find no information whatsoever), opened their first portrait studio in Paris, in 1900.

Henri Manuel's name appears on many of the cards we bring into our shop, and though most of the subjects we deal in are very lighthearted, Manuel himself was a serious photographer, and an astute business man. He became well known not only for his portraits of theatrical personalities, risque nudes, and romantic fantaisies, but more, for his portraits of famous politicians, art, architecture, and in 1910, “Manuel’s studio began providing a commercial service to news agencies for photographs known as ‘L’Agence universelle de reportage Henri Manuel.’” His studio grew to be the largest in Paris, a recognized center for the development of the photographic arts (please forgive the pun ☺), and for the three decades between 1914 and 1944, Henri Manuel held the post of official photographer for the French government. Because we know his studio operations were shut down during WWII, we wonder if during the last years he held that government post (when France was under German occupation), he worked for  “Free France,” but we haven't yet found a lot of history on that period. Henri Manuel passed away in 1947.

Just to give you an idea of the broad scope of the man's work, you can examine a few of the approximately 2500 photographs Manuel's studio produced of French prisons and juvenile facilities between the years 1929 and 1931, for the French Department of Justice. Pretty grim stuff, but though Red Poulaine is very much about the frolicsome fun, we feel it's important to give you background on our photographers and artistes when possible, and well...we just love the stories.