The artist and his patron: A review of "The Inventor and the Tycoon"

  • Using 12 cameras, Eadweard Muybridge took a series of photographs which showed an airborne galloping steed, its four feet suspended briefly above the earth.

    Eadweard Muybridge via Wikimedia Commons
 

The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures
Edward Ball
447 pages, hardcover: $29.95.
Doubleday, 2013.

Leland Stanford appeared to have it all: As president of the Big Four Associates, who built the Western half of the transcontinental railroad, the tycoon became one of 19th century San Francisco's most influential entrepreneurs, served as California's eighth governor, and founded the university that bears his name. "Newspapers were soaked with ink about the Stanfords' outsized lives," writes award-winning author Edward Ball in The Inventor and the Tycoon, which tells the story of Stanford's most bewildering partnership: his work with photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

Stanford had the time and money to cultivate an unusual obsession: He wanted to know if all four hooves of a running horse left the ground at the same time. Artists had long painted horses galloping in just that fashion, but who in the days before motion pictures could demonstrate the truth?

Stanford found an answer, thanks to the eccentric English immigrant he met in 1872. Muybridge, renowned for his Yosemite landscapes, doubted that he could capture the necessary images. But he was certainly willing to try.

Using 12 cameras, Muybridge took a series of photographs at Stanford's Palo Alto horse farm, which showed an airborne galloping steed, its four feet suspended briefly above the earth. Some years later, Muybridge invented what is sometimes considered the first movie projector, a spinning device called a zoopraxiscope.

Despite his technical genius, Muybridge was a deeply troubled man. In 1874, he shot and killed his wife's lover. The defense argued that Muybridge's flirtatious young bride drove him to insanity. Others saw him as a cold-blooded murderer, shrouded in secrecy and protected by a powerful patron. Muybridge was never convicted, but his reputation was forever tarnished.

An artful shape-shifter, Muybridge frequently changed professions, style of dress, and even the spelling of his name. But Ball's thoroughly researched biography parts the clouds of Muybridge's past, and examines both his and Stanford's vices and virtues through the lens of the times they lived in, revealing them as avatars of Gilded Age excess, sinister collaboration, and the kind of world-changing inventiveness to which we owe contemporary cinema.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...