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 1880 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 made by Jean Agélou. These 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 the Vérascope stereo camera was decisive for the success of stereo photography at the beginning of the 20th century in France.
The Atrium Collection
Jules Richard was a passionate photographer himself. Soon after the launch of the Vérascope in 1893 he publishes the first series of erotic stereoviews. In 1909 he builds an Atrium  next to his house at Rue Melingue in Paris and uses it as a photo studio. He photographes 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. The intimacy of viewing an image through the lenses of a stereoscope and the three-dimensional viewing experience were ideal for erotic photography.
The images are technically and artistically of high quality and stand out from the more explicit amateur images of that time. The total range of erotic stereoviews is approximately 7500, of which an estimated 6350 were made by Jules Richard himself. Others were shot by a close circle of friends and photographers who were invited to the Atrium and its gardens.
The slides were sold discreetly and buyers could select the desired images from a catalog. The glass slides are numbered according to an ascending numbering scheme and the information of the session has been preserved so that information about location, year and sometimes even the names of the models is known. The models were often dancers in the Parisian nightclubs like the Moulin Rouge.
The erotic images in my collection were part of the acquisition of a Taxiphote stereoscope. It's not unusual that a collection of images is part of the sale of a stereo viewer. Most of the time these are photos made by the original owner. It's nice to view these images because you travel a hundred year back in time, but usually the quality isn't very high and they can be compared to today's snapshots. I was pleasantly surprised that this acquisition contained no less than 74 erotic images.
- Jules Richard et la magie du relief - volume 3, J. Perin, 1993
- Stereo nudes 1850-1930, S. Nazerieff, 1985
- L'Atrium et autres délires photographiques, A. Dupouy, 2010
- Boudoir Cards