ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHS OF EINSTEIN: SIGNED AND DATED BY EINSTEIN ON THE ORIGINAL PRESENTATION MAT; Also signed twice by his favorite photographer, Jacobi.
In 1938, Einstein agreed to sit for a “photo story” by Life magazine on the proviso that Lotte Jacobi be the photographer. A noted female portraitist who photographed many of the 20th century’s most famous men and women, Jacobi was descended from a long line of photographers—her great-grandfather having learned the craft from the inventor of photography himself, Louis Daguerre. She abandoned her successful career in Germany in 1935, having declined the Nazis’ offer of “honorary Aryan status”—undoubtedly one of the reasons Einstein so admired her.
Jacobi disliked the stiff portraiture technique that characterized the photography studio of her time. Rather, it was her method to bring the studio to the subject, and she liked to wait until her models were most at ease before taking a photo. Here she has brilliantly captured Einstein in his Princeton home in a private moment of deep museful thought—at work on scientific equations—casually dressed in his favorite leather (“bomber”) jacket and with his signature disheveled hair.
Life magazine rejected the photograph on the grounds that it defied the prevailing aesthetics of contemporary photographic journalism and that it did not treat Einstein “with enough respect.” But in focusing on the very qualities that defined the inner nature of her subject—his contemplative absorption in his science and his own indifference to social conventions of dress and grooming—Jacobi created one of the most beloved images of the great scientist. The photograph was first publicly exhibited at the MoMA’s 1942 exhibition of “20th Century Portraits” and has since gone on to become a “Cornerstone” of our conception of the great scientist.
Though we cannot determine it with certitude, we think this particular copy of Jacobi’s image is contemporaneous with her 1938 session with Einstein, and was later gifted by Einstein in 1949.
Princeton: 1938. Image size 9-1/4” x 7-1/4”. Signed and dated by Einstein on the original presentation mat, “A. Einstein 19. IV 49.” Signed twice by Jacobi, once on the mat (lower right) and again more imperceptibly on the photograph itself (lower left). Some silvering (oxidation) at top and right edge of the photograph not affecting the central image The original matting itself placed in a newer museum quality matting. EXTREMELY RARE.