Anyone having their portrait done by Madame d’Ora (1881–1963) could be confident they were lending themselves a touch of French elegance, notes the introduction to her first ever exhibition at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG).
Her subjects included writer Arthur Schnitzler, composer Alban Berg, and the cultural critic Hermann Bahr. She also produced portraits of the Wiesenthal sisters and Anna Pavlova, action shots of the scandalous nude dancer Anita Berber, and images of operetta star Fritzy Massary, exotic singer Josephine Baker, and Coco Chanel.
Madame d’Ora was born as Dora Philippine Kalmus into a wealthy Jewish family. Her father worked as a lawyer at the Viennese palace court. After training with the photographer Nicola Perscheid in Berlin, she opened a studio in her hometown of Vienna in 1907. From 1921 to 1926, she also ran a summer studio in the spa town of Carlsbad, and in 1925 she opened a studio in Paris.
She was forced to flee Paris after the Nazi invasion in 1940, and hid in southern France and Austria. After a 1959 accident, she died in 1963 in Frohnleiten, Austria.
From 1910 to the 1950s, Madame d’Ora was the portraitist of choice for Viennese and Parisian society, as well as for Bohemian artists. People flocked to her studios in Vienna and Paris to take home aesthetically sophisticated and captivating portraits of themselves that exuded a contemporary look and underpinned their claim to a place in high society, the world of the beautiful, well-educated, and famous.
Along with creating portraits, Madame d’Ora also specialized in fashion photography starting in the 1910s. In the 1920s, she managed to place her images in the rapidly evolving illustrated press, providing templates for new, upscale lifestyle magazines such as Die Dame from the Ullstein Verlag publishing house, Madame, and Officiel de la Couture et de la Mode.
In Austria, in 1945-6, Madame d’Ora documented the fate of refugees near Vienna, acting for the first time as a social reporter. In 1950 and in 1958 she created two series depicting slaughterhouses that are still unsettling to today’s viewer. These works can be understood as her personal artistic response to the horrors of war.
The retrospective at the MKG presents the first-ever survey of Madame d’Ora’s work in a comprehensive exhibition featuring some 250 photographs spanning her early years in the 1910s until the 1950s, laying the groundwork for a re-assessment of this fascinating figure.
Madame d’Ora – Make Me Beautiful!
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg,
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