RARE EARLY AND EVOCATIVE PHOTOGRAPH OF ALBERT EINSTEIN BY WALTER BENINGTON, SIGNED AND INSCRIBED ON THE MATTE BY EINSTEIN TO RUTH BLUMGART, PREEMINENT PSYCHOANALYST AND CLOSE CONFIDANT OF SIGMUND FREUD.
The vast majority of photographs of Einstein that appear on the market are from much later in his life - generally after 1933 following his move to the United States. This photograph was taken in June 1921 (before Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize) by the renowned portrait photographer Walter Benington.
Early in his career Benington became famous as a member of the influential “Linked Ring” and London Secession movements for pictorial photography. By 1909, however, Benington “turned to portraiture opening his first studio in Conduit Street, London... His famous photograph of Albert Einstein was taken in June 1921, when Einstein came to London, at the invitation of Lord Haldane, to deliver an important lecture on his theories of Relativity. Einstein's visit captured the public imagination and The Sphere (18 June 1921) reproduced Benington's informal double portrait of Einstein and Haldane as its front cover with an inset of Einstein taken at the same sitting” (UK National Portrait Gallery).
This image is one of at least two that Benington took of Einstein by himself at the June 1921 sitting and is the only example of the photograph we can locate. There is another image of Einstein from the sitting in a slightly different position with his hair more wild; an example of this other photograph is in the National Portrait Gallery and was printed in 1928 (from the original 1921 negative), after Benington became a regular member of the Elliot & Fry photographic studio and was able to reproduce his images more easily. The present photo almost certainly was not printed for distribution and it is likely that Einstein received only a few prints at the time of the sitting for presentation purposes. The date of the inscription is July 1921, just after the sitting.
Artistically, the bust portrait is of a particularly high quality, with Einstein displaying a wonderful delicacy of expression enhanced by the soft tint of the photograph.
The Inscription and Association:
The inscription, penned on the original matte beneath the photo, reads (translated from the original German):
To the lovely Mrs. Ruth Blumgart
Daughter of Judge Mack to whom I send fondest
Albert Einstein, July 1921
The recipient, Ruth Blumgart, was an extremely close associate of Freud: “Ruth’s access to Freud seemed unique; she came to meals at his apartment, visited him in summers, and was on excellent terms with his children [...] Ruth was considered a member of Freud’s extended family. It is generally agreed that she was, during this last phase in Freud’s career, the most important of his female followers; he treated her virtually as an adopted daughter.”
“[She] also played a special role in mediating between the American analysts and Freud’s circle in Vienna. She was a member of both the New York and Vienna Psychoanalytic societies. She became an important channel through which wealthy American patients arranged to undergo analyses with Freud; she undertook also to look after all the American analytic patients who were in Vienna. In recognition of her special standing, [Blumgart] became one of the few women who received a ring, signifying she was a designated apostle, from Freud. Freud trusted her to see that his work was correctly communicated to his followers in the United States.
“[Her] central contribution to psychoanalytic thinking concerned the child’s earliest relationship to the mother; in 1929 she was the first in print to use the term ‘pre-oedipal,’ and Freud himself adopted it two years later...
Freud publicly included [Ruth Blumgart] among those women analysts who had been able to discover, in their female patients, an early exclusive attachment to the mother that he himself had not been able to discern. Freud wrote in 1932 that she had been “the first to describe a case of neurosis which went back to a fixation to the pre-Oedipus stage and had never reached the Oedipus situation at all” (American National Biography).
The inscription also makes mention of Judge Julian Mack, father of Ruth Blumgart and a prominent figure of American Jewry:
“Julian W. Mack was one of the mainstays of the German-Jewish establishment which dominated official American Jewish life during the first third of the twentieth Century. President of the National Conference of Jewish Charities in 1904, Judge Mack was also a founder of the American Jewish Committee, a leader of the Joint Distribution Committee, president of the first American Jewish Congress in 1918 and chairman of the Committee of Jewish Delegations to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference [...] His prominence as a public-minded citizen and as a spokesman for Chicago's Jews won Mack an appointment as a civil service commissioner of Chicago and then the Democratic Party's nomination and election in 1903 as a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. In 1910, he was appointed to the newly created Commerce Court by President Taft and in 1913 he became a judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals and a resident of New York City. While on the Circuit Court of Appeals he became known as one of the nation's great judges” (Jewish Social Studies Journal).
Size: Photograph 16 x 21 cm; (6.25 x 8.25 in.); with matte: 20.5 x 27 cm; 8 x 10.5 in. Framed in what appears to be the original frame to an overall size of: 25 x 33 cm; 10 x 12.5 in.
Photograph with a few stray surface marks; overall in a remarkably fine state of preservation. The presumably original frame has a significant chip at the base and cracks at the corners. The glass has been recently replaced with UV-protecting museum glass and an extra backing has been added for protection.
AN EXCEPTIONALLY RARE AND BEAUTIFUL PHOTOGRAPH WITH A STRONG ASSOCIATION; ONE OF THE BEST SIGNED EINSTEIN PHOTOGRAPHS WE’VE SEEN ON THE MARKET.