The humiliating defeat of France in the French-Prussian war of 1870 was followed by a period of political stability. Prosperity increased, there were many technological innovations and the cultural and artistic climate flourished. This period was characterised by optimism. After the First World War the French looked back on this period with melancholy and it became known as La Belle Époque (the beautiful era). It lasted from 1871 until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
Although it was still mainly a prudish society, the period was characterised by a more free sexual moral. Life was celebrated in the nightclubs of Paris and street vendors sold postcards with erotic images. These so-called French Postcards were not meant to be sent (they would be banned from mail delivery), but were souvenirs for tourists or cherished by voyeurs and bon vivants who enjoyed the good things of life.
In the 1890s, stereo photography received a new impulse. This was mainly inspired by the innovations of Jules Richard. His introduction of new glass formats and a product line around the Vérascope stereo camera were decisive for the success of stereo photography at the beginning of the 20th century in France.
The Atrium Collection
Jules Richard was also a passionate photographer. He built an Atrium  at Rue Melingue in Paris and used it as a photo studio. He photographed nude females in an ancient Greek setting. Greek mythology was a source of inspiration for many artists and became a fashion at the end of the 19th century. It also helped to make nude photography more acceptable. It resulted in a collection of more than seven thousand erotic stereoviews, mainly in the 45x107 glass format. The intimacy of viewing an image through the lenses of a stereoscope and the three-dimensional viewing experience were ideal for erotic photography.
Most of the images were photographed by Jules Richard himself, others by a select circle of friends. The images were made inside the Atrium and in its gardens. The models were often dancers in the Parisian nightclubs like the Moulin Rouge but at the time it was also common for artists to use prostitutes. The images are technically and artistically of high quality and stand out from the more explicit amateur images of that time.
The erotic images in my collection were part of the acquisition of a Taxiphote stereo viewer. It's not unusual that a collection of images is part of the sale of a stereoscope. Most of the time these are the images made by the original owner. It's nice to view the images because you travel a hundred year back in time, but usually the quality isn't very high and the images can be compared to today's snapshots. I was pleasantly surprised that this acquisition contained no less than 74 erotic images.
- Stereo nudes 1850-1930, S. Nazerieff, 1985
- L'Atrium et autres délires photographiques, A. Dupouy, 2010
- French postcard via Wikipedia