Jeandel’s secret ropes

The translation of this post is by Ayzad, a journalist, writer, kinky sex expert and, last but not least, a dear friend of mine. A few days ago I found this article still not published in my website. I immediatly though it was a “truly Ayzadian stuff”, so I asked him to translate it in English in exchange of the permission to post it in his website too. It was a nice exchange with a kind person I often collaborate with.

Charles François Jeandel is just over twenty years old when, by the end of the nineteenth century, he accompanies little Madeleine Castets, the daughter of a rich Angoulême banker and family friend, to the baptismal font. On that occasion, young Charles François announces that the child will become his wife one day – and so it is. In July 1898 they get married: he is forty and she is still shy of twenty-one.

Jeandel is a reserved scholar with a passion for archeology. He is a member of the Société archéologique et historique de la Charente and a passionate painter; rather talented, he even has one of his pictures up in the French Artists hall at the 1889 Universal Exhibition of Paris, the Tour Eiffel one. The subject is probably the destruction of the Serapides temple by Roman soldiers.

Few of his works survive today, since due to his lack of success as a painter, Jeandel decides to retire to the countryside and to live off his family estate. Unfortunately, the 1929 Great Crisis hits the Jeandels’ finances hard; Charles François dies in poverty in 1942, while Madeleine roughly manages two decades more by selling everything the husband had left her.

This could be the ordinary story of an ordinary couple from an ordinary village. Yet, we unexpectedly can peer into the private life of these persons and uncover their peculiar interests. In fact, Hugues Autexier and François Braunschweig of the Texbraun gallery somehow got hold of several Jeandel cyanotypes: among the photographs of relatives, friends, churches and landscapes, there also is a hundred or so pictures of women. They are nude, tied up, suspended, whipped and occasionally blindfolded or gagged – they are proto-bondage photos.

There is no particular search for aesthetics or expressiveness; there are no sex scenes, and even their eroticism is far from outstanding. Still, if we compare them to the photographs taken half a century later by those artists who kickstarted the fetish and western bondage scenes, they look extremely similar.

Mrs. Jeandel does not appear in any photo, but it looks like she was actively involved in their production. So I like to imagine this cute couple in the middle of the French rural mists, posing as god-fearing bourgeoises while at the same time they have fun experimenting with ropes in every room of their mansion, and capturing them with cumbersome cameras.

You can find two interesting articles about Charles François Jeandel also in Libération and Culture Visuelle.

All the images are by RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay).

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