Thomas Evans and Félix Nadar
On exhibit December 4, 2017 - April 29, 2018
Thomas W. Evans (1823-1897) was the preferred dentist to the Royal Courts of Europe. Evans, a Philadelphia native, left his estate to the University of Pennsylvania to create and maintain a dental school that would be "second to none." A previous exhibition explored Thomas Evans's relationships, during the American dentist's years in Paris, with writers, especially Stéphane Mallarmé. Evans was interested in more than writers alone, however, as can be seen in one of Penn's most interesting and visually arresting documents of nineteenth-century French cultural history. That document may survive only because Evans brought it to Philadelphia when he returned to the United States. An album (Ms. Coll. 21), its contents date from 1853 through 1875. They represent many aspects of nineteenth-century French artistic, political, social, and scientific life. Adam Begley's very recent The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (New York, 2017) describes the album as "a livre d'or, one of several guest books or autograph albums" its owner possessed. That owner was Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820-1910), more commonly (and much more famously) known as Nadar. He was, among other things during his long life, a photographer, caricaturist, and balloonist. "If you came to sit for a portrait (or a caricature)" in Nadar's Paris studio, Begley writes, "and if you were an artist or a celebrity or preferably both," then Nadar "would pester you to sign and leave a memento: a quip, a sketch, a poem, a few bars of music."
The album illuminates both Nadar himself and many other figures active or interested in nineteenth-century French culture. On display are selected scans from the album, their captions from Begley (with additions italicized and in square brackets), that suggest some of the richness and variety of Nadar's universe, which Thomas Evans subsequently preserved.