Nude Art Pioneer Started With Naked Adolescent Girls

August 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

The first photographic portrait of a human being was shot in October 1839 by Robert Cornelius and it was a self-portrait. As soon as portraiture became viable, nude studies were made, and among these were nude photos of young girls.

One of the pioneers in nude daguerreotype photography was the Frenchman Félix-Jacques Antoine Moulin. He opened a studio on the rue du Faubourg Montmartre in Paris, France in 1849 when he was aged in his late 40s. Already in 1849 and 1850 he was producing and publishing nude photos for the public. His early subjects were “non-professional female models aged 14-16”, as John Windsor noted in his review [note 1] of the book Early Erotic Photography edited by Serge Nazarieff. The photos were uncensored with clear views of the subjects’ nipples and pubic hair and many of the models wore no clothes at all and went barefoot.

Two photos illustrate the contrasting kinds of portraits Moulin made with adolescents. The first I’ll discuss is a photo he shot in 1849 showing 16 year old Céline Cerf standing full-frontally nude against a dark background and holding a linen shirt at the side of her leg. This is a rather innocent image though some think her facial expression is suggestive of eroticism.

Quite different is a stereoscopic daguerreotype from 1851 or 1852 showing two seated females where the one in the front, whose body and face are distinctly adolescent (I think she’s 15 though 14 is also likely), is masturbating. The masturbating girl has her eyes closed and is full-frontally nude with her legs wide open, displaying both of her breasts and her ample pubic hair, with one of her hands touching her vulva (her middle finger may be slightly inserted into her vagina). The other female, looking a little older, likewise exposes her pubic hair while her legs are apart and she’s gazing down at the girl’s pubic area while placing one of her hands on the upper arm of the girl and it seems to touch the edge of the girl’s breast. This latter photo was titled “Obscénité (Indecent Exposure)” when it came to auction as lot 7 in the series Photographies de 1839-1989 by Binoche Renaud-Giquello & Associés on June 25, 2010.

Nazarieff called Moulin “the first in the history of photography whose work exudes seductiveness”. Moulin probably made other pornographic photos of adolescent girls that I’m unaware of.

Moulin’s activities led to the world’s first child pornography court case. In 1851, he was charged and convicted of selling and possessing “obscene objects”. His punishment was a month in prison and a fine of 100 francs [note 1]. (His colleague, the photographer Jules Malacrida, was sent behind bars for one year and fined 500 francs.) In the five years that followed Moulin’s release from prison, he actually resumed making nude photos of females, somewhat clandestinely, though some of them look like they were perhaps a little older than the ones who posed for him before. Moulin exhibited some nude photos of females at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1855 [note 2].

Here we are 160 years later, in the year 2011, and this kind of art is still not legally or culturally accepted today. The criminal penalties for making explicit photos of adolescent girls are typically even harsher today (years or decades in prison and fines of tens of thousands of dollars) compared to Moulin’s sentence. How can this be? Masturbation is a natural, healthy act that’s never abusive and the pubic area is a fundamental part of a girl’s body. David Hamilton resided in Moulin’s country and followed in Moulin’s footsteps by photographing adolescent girls graphically nude and occasionally masturbating, but that was during an all-too-brief renaissance of young nude art in the 1970s. Nobody openly makes such photos today.

Moulin’s nude photos have been published in several books and sold in multiple auctions. At least one is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Another is in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. The photo of the girl holding the linen shirt is housed at the Albertina museum in Vienna, Austria. Emperor Franz Josef of Austria owned some of them. So prestigious institutions as well as prominent individuals have collected them.


1. “A tale of indecent exposures” by John Windsor in The Independent, November 6, 1993,

2. Donald Rosenthal’s entry on Félix Moulin in Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, edited by John Hannavy, 2007, volume 1, on page 946.

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