The namesake of an industrial entrepreneur, Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. was born in Yonkers, New York on August 7, 1862. He and his five siblings enjoyed a carefree childhood raised at their impressive "Seven Oaks" home. After attending Yonkers public schools and Hoboken Academy, he was a machinist apprentice for four years. Young Eickemeyer's interest in drawing made him a natural choice to work in his father's machine factory as a draftsman. In 1884, he purchased a camera to photograph his father's patented machines. Photography quickly became a passion and he began his formal education by taking lessons from a local photographer and studying professional journals. He approached photography from both scientific and artistic perspectives, believing technology could enhance the medium's aesthetic appeal.
Mr. Eickemeyer found a perfect personal and professional partner in Isabelle Hicks, whom he married in 1891. She was often featured in his landscape photographs and award-winning portraits. He, along with colleague Alfred Stieglitz were the first Americans elected into London's Linked Ring Brotherhood. After publishing several technical articles in publications such as The Photographic Times, Mr. Eickemeyer officially turned professional in 1896 when he opened his own studio, a year after the death of his father, who never approved of his son pursuing photography as a career. He further reinforced his professional status and reputation by becoming art manager of the prestigious Campbell Art Studio on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Mr. Eickemeyer's photographs of attractive young socialites gave the period known as 'the Gilded Age' its aristocratic and decidedly feminine face. According to early twentieth-century critic, the three most influential men in pictorial photography at the time were Alfred Stieglitz, Sadakichi Hartmann, and Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. Although he still had to depend upon commercial photography to make a living, his art photography was receiving critical acclaim and often featured in Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Work. His most famous portaits were those of married starlet Evelyn Nesbit, commissioned by her boyfriend, prominent architect Stanford White. Miss Nesbit would later be at the center of a national scandal when her jealous husband shot and killed Mr. White, which increased the commercial value of Mr. Eickemeyer's photographs significantly.
Sadly, despite this success, he and Mr. Stieglitz had an artistic disagreement over print manipulation that ended their professional relationship and their friendship. Mr. Stieglitz championed Robert Demachy's manipulated print techniques whereas Mr. Eickemeyer preferred the straightforward photographic images of Curtis Bell's American Salon. Sadly for Mr. Eickemeyer, Mr. Stieglitz emerged triumphant in this battle of ideologies. By 1915, his critical support began to waver, and the next year he lost his beloved wife. He happily rebounded three years' later when he married Florence Brevoort, daughter of landscape artist James Renwick Brevoort. The couple lived quietly until 69-year-old Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. died at Yonkers' St. John's Hospital on April 25, 1932. Shortly before his death, he donated much of his personal collection to the Smithsonian's Section of Photography, along with a donation of his many awards, books letters, articles, cameras, prints, and lantern slides. A critical assessment published in an 1895 issue of The Photographic Times described Mr. Eickemeyer's approach to photography: "In all his pictures there is thought, feeling, and an originality which is never out of harmony or eccentric."
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 478.
1986 In My Studio: Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr. and the art of the camera, 1885-1930 (Yonkers, NY: Hudson River Museum), pp. 5, 9-11, 15, 19-23.
1972 Photography of Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr. (Yonkers, NY: Hudson River Museum).
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