In 1930, the celebrated American photographer Richard Gordon Matzene made a unique series of portraits of the ruling families of Nepal. Matzene s previous portraits of Indian royalty, admired by the Nepalese, facilitated an invitation from Nepal. Wary of British imperialist intent, which was frighteningly real in neighboring India, Nepal at that time maintained a closed-border policy. Matzene, upon reaching Kathmandu after an arduous journey over formidable terrain, was only the 27th foreigner to enter the country. The handsome aristocrats and sumptuously adorned women in his immaculate portraits are here identified and their biographies fitted into the panoply of Nepalese court drama and intrigue. Local and regional conquests, two world wars, a devastating earthquake, and the rampant malaria that challenged the regime are all part of this story. A look into Matzene s life shows a mysterious, enigmatic character. With an alias or two, Matzene called himself a count yet never revealed his true nationality. Appreciative correspondence from Nepal, received in Ponca City, Oklahoma, Matzene s home from the late twenties to his death in 1950, attest to a lasting friendship won by his legendary panache and sophistication. His personal charm allowed him to negotiate Nepalese court etiquette and Hindu culture, to produce matchless photographs that conjure rich personal stories in a national ethos that now exists only in memory.
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