A Life in Pictures – Tilla Durieux at the Leopold Museum
The actress is one of the most dazzling stars of the early 20th century and was long considered the role model of the modern woman. A text by Sabine B. Vogel.
The actress who was born as Ottilie Godeffroy in Vienna in 1880 and died known under her stage name Tilla Durieux in Berlin in 1971, is one of the most enigmatic stars of the early 20th century. She shone on stage and was long regarded as the role model of the modern woman. Now a major show at the Leopold Museum is dedicated to her. For Durieux is one of the most portrayed women of the last century – although she was by no means considered a beauty. A theater critic even once called her a “white Negress” because of her very individual facial features. But therein lay her strength, which allowed for great versatility in her stage roles and portrait sessions.
Thus, after three years of research, curator Daniela Gregori can now present 233 works that show Durieux in 14 paintings, 16 sculptures, plus works on paper and photographs. One of the earliest portraits comes from the collection of the Leopold Museum: Her first husband Eugen Spiro painted his wife in 1905 on the sofa in domestic bliss – which at that time was already ticked off.
For in that year she met her second husband, the well-known art dealer Paul Cassirer, who had her portrayed by numerous celebrated artists: Max Slevogt captured her in 1907 in her role as the seductive Cleopatra, Franz von Stuck as the beguiling Circe. Not all artists were enthusiastic about the commissions; Oskar Kokoschka accepted it only “with reluctance,” as Gregori writes in the catalog, and Max Oppenheimer searched for the appropriate pose with a few studies. These works also belong to the collection of the Leopold Museum. Ernst Barlach created several portrait busts in plaster, bronze and porcelain at once. Even her 1914 portrait of Auguste Renoir, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, can be seen at the Leopold Museum. It is one of the master’s last works, done while he was sitting in a wheelchair, his brushes tethered to his hand. Painting fascinating, Durieux is, however, so idealized that the diva is barely recognizable.