Sunday, February 21, 2010

Evelyn Nesbit

Evelyn Nesbit by Rudolf Eickemeyer
Charles Dana Gibson, The Eternal Question

Evelyn Nesbit by Rudolf Eickemeyer

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness...

John Keats

Evelyn Nesbit was sixteen years old in 1901, the year that renowned architect Stanford White hired Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. to photograph the aspiring model and performer. Her astonishing beauty had made Evelyn one of the most in-demand artists' models in New York, including a turn as a 'Gibson Girl', the idealized young women of the pen and ink illustrated stories created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. White designed regal institutional buildings, and stately mansions for wealthy patrons including the Astors and the Vanderbilts. During his brief affair with Evelyn, he was helpful in introducing her to New York society.

After an erratic courtship, Evelyn married Harry Thaw, heir to a considerable fortune. In 1906, the obsessively jealous and compulsive Thaw, approached Stanford White at a Madison Square Garden theater and murdered him with a pistol shot at point blank range. Thaw was later acquitted and he and Nesbit divorced. Her later years had none of the excitement or drama of her youth, although there were suicide attempts, alcoholism, and an addiction to morphine. She wrote two memoirs, taught classes in ceramics and lived her final years in a nursing home in Santa Monica, California.

Shortly before his death in 1932, Eickemeyer donated a large portion of his personal collection of photographs to the Smithsonian Museum, including the infamous images of Nesbit. The artifacts in the museum provide a distinct and often complex narrative record of our American past. Her beauty, something bigger than she could ever inhabit or control, is her legacy.

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