23 March 2007

Baroness Elsa : Dada Muse

We started this ill-fated week with Hannah Höch, Dada Artist, and so I suppose it is fitting that we end it with an ill-fated Dada Muse.

She's got quite a name: Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. She acquired the title with her 1913 marriage to Leopold Freiherr von Freytag-Loringhoven. I suppose the foregoing description 'Dada Muse' isn't quite enough. She was a dancer, a poet, a model, a farmer. But no matter what she was up to, she did it as a complete exhibitionist, feminist, and artist. The image here is a photo of what she called a "portrait of Marcel Duchamp" in 1920. In perfect Dada style, the portrait is made up of everyday rubbish. Feathers, beads, wire, a champagne glass. Very little of her art survives, but her poetry and some of her letters have. Oh, and descriptions of her clothing, appearance, and antics can be found in the work of any author remotely connected with NY Dada. That's how outlandish she was.

The Baroness was resourceful, bold, and persistent enough to fend for herself. Even though it was certainly humiliating, she took work in a cigarette factory once, selling newspapers on the street on another occasion when the men and the money ran out. She also used her own flamboyance to cultivate as much material advantage as she could. And it worked. Ezra Pound wrote about her in his "Cantos", Frederick Philip Grove wrote a few books based on her life before abandoning her in Kentucy in 1911. She modeled her way to NY where she modeled some more for Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia. Modeling was a means to an end. It kept her close to art, and the money got her closer to being able to afford to actually do art. She eventually returned to Germany in 1923, where her life and finances got particularly bleak. Several friends (women who were all part of the first circle of American feminists and authors) came to her aid and bankrolled her relocation to Paris, where she died in 1927.

Unlike some of the other women we've seen here this month, there is no shortage of information out there about the Baroness. She's an enigma, a fascinating one. And even though 90 years have passed since her outlandish Greenwich Village escapades began, they'd still look like outlandish escapades today. Currency. Just something an artist has got to have.


Dad said...

I like that work. She sounds like an outrageously interesting person. Was her work recognized by the general art world during her life or was she scorned by the elite? She looks like she had some talent as that painting is very good. Thanks for putting the comment sections on the other postings. I will go back again over the weekend and enjoy them again.

Mary Ann said...

She would have been the first proto-photorealist if that was a painting, but its a photo of the actual work of art--a glass filled wtih feathers, bits of metal, etc. The photo of it is all that is left these days.

Dad said...

I like the work either way because of what was in it and the color and shading but I did take the original comments as it being a photograph of a painting but your response makes me think it is a photograph of the actual items. Where would it have been displayed?

Vatti said...

Thanks for continuing to broaden my exposure to the strange and exotic. The fact that she had friends who would come to her aid says something about her. Do you think they admired her or felt sorry for her?

Mary Ann said...

I'll have to look into where the Baroness's portrait was displayed, because I'm not too sure I read that while reading about her.

Vatti, I've been wondering about that too. It could be either of your suggestions. She was totally notoriously famous, quite worthy of admirations, and despite that totally pitiable especially in the end. But her freinds could have had other motivations. Perhaps, she was simply worth saving/helping. It would be interesting to go back and read the letters/diaries of the women who bailed her out. That might answer your question.