Front view
Inv. No.S-0249
ArtistGrete Eckertborn 1895 in Germanydied 1982 in Germany

L’Inconnue de la Seine

Year1930s, vintage

gelatin silver print

Dimensions22 x 16 cm

artist stamp on verso


L'Inconnue de la Seine (The Unknown from the Seine) was an unknown young woman whose death mask could be found on the walls of many artists' flats in Paris after 1900. She was the inspiration for many writers and the subject of many photographers. According to legend, the unknown woman was a suicide whose body was recovered from the Seine in Paris around 1900. An employee of the Paris mortuary is said to have been so taken by her beauty that he took a plaster cast of her face. He had a death mask made, of which numerous copies were made in the following years, becoming fashionable among the Parisian bohemians as a morbid furnishing accessory. The enigmatically peaceful facial expression of the dead gave rise to countless speculations about their lives, the circumstances of their deaths and their state of mind in the afterlife.
The popularity of these images at the time is interesting in terms of media history. It is related to the multiple reproduction: The fact that the prints of the death mask were photographed and reproduced again from the negatives seemed to reinforce their authenticity. The water seemed to have captured the last facial expression of her life like a photograph, which is not the case with water corpses.
Elisabeth Bronfen, in her book Nur über ihre Leiche. Tod, Weiblichkeit und Ästhetik (Death, Femininity and Aesthetics, 1994), according to which a resourceful Hamburg plaster manufacturer made a cast of his living daughter's face.

S-0249, L’Inconnue de la Seine
Grete Eckert, L’Inconnue de la Seine, 1930s
S-0249, Front view
© Grete Eckert Estate
S-0249, Back view
Grete Eckert, L’Inconnue de la Seine, 1930s
S-0249, Back view
S-0019, Albert Rudomine, "Vierge_inconnue", 1927
Albert Rudomine, "Vierge_inconnue", 1927
more infoS-0019, Front view
© Grete Eckert Estate
S-0146, Anonymous, L’Inconnue de la Seine, 1920s
Anonymous, L’Inconnue de la Seine, 1920s
more infoS-0146, Front view
© Grete Eckert Estate
S-0156, Paul Citroen, "Atelierwand", 1930
Paul Citroen, "Atelierwand", 1930
more infoS-0156, Front view
© Grete Eckert Estate