Rare Cyanotype of a Cadaver

Unique cyanotype photogram on paper
Circa: 1941-1949
Size: 13 1/2”(w) x 36” (h) (sight)
Though created for scientific purposes, this image of a male inner torso is strikingly beautiful with its deep blue tonal range and confrontational subject.

In a recently published essay by Lita Tirak, Tirak reveals that the innovative radiographs were created by a General Electric technologist named Harold Mahoney. Mahoney was a formally trained artist by way of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Arts Students League of New York and became a radiologist during WWI.

Working with Northwestern University in the mid-1930s, Mahoney created a complicated year-long technique of preserving the body that allowed him to develop x-rays showing both detailed views of soft tissue and bones, 40 years ahead of computed tomography or CAT scans.

Mahoney published his inventive technique and remarkable x-rays through trade journals. However, other technicians found his process too complicated and timely to replicate. In time, Mahoney's innovations were lost to history, only to be revealed again now.

Tirak notes that all or, for the most part, the cadavers used in Mahoney's study were African-American. This was due to economic disadvantages and racial injustices prevalent in Chicago and American that made Black cadavers more available than Caucasian ones.

Though his innovative radiographs were designed for the advancement of science, Harold Mahoney, combined with his academic art training, created highly artful, complex, and compelling anatomical studies that revealed much more than muscle and bones; they revealed something about the human condition.

Examples of the cyanotypes can be found at The National Gallery; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and MOMA . We are delighted to own two examples of these remarkable works ourselves.

Full for full article please see: Black and Blue: Revelations in Harold Mahoney’s X-rayed Anatomical Sections, by Lita Tirak, The Rijksmuseum Bulletin, pps. 26-49.

Reference: Burns and Wilson, Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period. Worcester Art Museum, 2016, pps.68-71


Condition: Excellent. Archivally float mounted within a wood frame and Museum glass.

Price: $8,500.00