Today's blog post comes from Curator of Photography, Kate Ware.
Vienna, the cosmopolitan capital of Austria, was a hub of artistic and intellectual exchange in the early 1900s, with a vibrant culture of theater, cinema, music, and dance, as well as science and philosophy. Sigmund Freud had recently published The Interpretation of Dreams, Arnold Schoenberg was developing his twelve-tone method in music, and Gustave Klimt painted women engulfed by flattened patterns and lozenges of gold. In Vienna and across Europe, artists in many disciplines shared a post-war mission to create art that was freed from the rules of the past.
In 1920, twenty-five-year-old Trude Fleischmann (1895-1990) opened a photography studio in Vienna that quickly became a destination for the region’s cultural elite. During the studio’s eighteen-year run, Fleischmann photographed many luminaries including composer Alban Berg, architect Adolf Loos, conductor Arturo Toscanini, and theater director Max Reinhardt.
Two of Fleischmann’s gem-like portraits from that period are in the museum’s collection and are featured in the current exhibition Stage, Setting, Mood: Theatricality in the Visual Arts. These two prints showcase Fleischmann’s characteristic style. Undoubtedly influenced by Viennese turn-of-the century modernism, the young artist adopted its highly stylized and theatrical approach as well as its tendency to revel in surfaces and patterns.
We see this in Fleischmann’s dazzling 1928 image of Sibylle Binder, a stage and film actress, who is presented as elegant, ethereal, and unabashedly sensational. The artist emphasizes Binder’s spangled headdress and delicate profile, making her appear as rarefied and exquisite as the women in Klimt’s paintings. She is a modernist goddess: accomplished, liberated, and gorgeous. Fleischmann’s portrait of ballet master Anton “Toni” Birkmeyer is also highly theatrical, showing the dancer posing in his stage makeup, his face a mask of dramatic sensitivity.
By crafting images that suffused her sitters in the glow of beauty and sensuality, Fleischmann established a role for herself in this dynamic but short-lived world of creative visionaries. Her studio remained a gathering place until 1938, when she – and many of her portrait subjects -- was forced to flee Austria to escape Nazi persecution. Whatever lives were lived by the people in her pictures, in Fleischmann’s portraits they are preserved forever as intriguing and extraordinary.