Turn-of-Century Vienna Artists Deserve Second Look

Three Forgotten Jewish Women Made Bold Statements

The impressionist artist Tina Blau was known for her idyllic landscapes.
Wikimedia Commons
The impressionist artist Tina Blau was known for her idyllic landscapes.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published January 12, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When writing of great Viennese artists, influential historians such as Carl Schorske in his landmark “Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture” do not even mention sculptor Teresa Ries (1874-1956), Impressionist landscape painter Tina Blau (1845-1916), and figurative artist Bronica Koller (1863-1934). But posterity can play strange tricks. And now, in “The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900” author Julie Johnson makes a strong argument that these once-celebrated Jewish artists have been unjustly overlooked.

Johnson, a University of Texas art historian, notes how all three women shared a strong sense of self-worth and a penchant for making bold statements, and not only artistic ones. The Russian-born Ries was expelled from the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts for scolding a teacher who did not evaluate her classwork. After she was established as a celebrity sculptor in Vienna, Ries — whose admirers included Stefan Zweig and Mark Twain, who sat for a portrait — penned her 1928 memoirs, “The Language of Stone,” a powerful, feminist document. In it, Ries dismissed critics and museum-goers who claimed that her heroic, sometimes tormented marble carvings were influenced by Auguste Rodin: “That is often the first impression of lay people, somewhat in the way that for Europeans, all blacks look alike.” Ries further dismissed the “opinion that the man is necessarily the inseminator, also in art,” and added that her works, especially a once-famous statue of “Lucifer” actually preceded Rodin’s “Thinker,” which supposedly influenced it.

In a 1902 self-portrait, an oil on canvas now in The Vienna Museum, the statuesque Ries, garbed in her artist’s smock, strikes a haughtily prideful pose, challenging the viewer much as she challenged readers in her autobiography. The artist’s fiery temperament can be deduced from another passage from “The Language of Stone,” describing her 1909 marble sculpture “Eve” which depicts the Bible’s first woman in a cowering fetal posture: “I could not understand why the woman could not gain a better position in history, that the secondary role in the history of humankind seemed to suffice — woman, in whose womb humanity begins and ends! I could not understand why the women of my time were content to rely on the moody love-whims of men. And yet, this seemed to be the fate of women since the time of Eve, since the first sin.”

Blau, whose exuberantly soaring depictions of trees in Vienna parks brought a light-drenched palette to subject matter usually dealt with in somber Old Master fashion by contemporary male painters, was less public in her statements. Yet like Ries, she possessed a firm conviction of her own value.

In a 1900 letter to Auguste Schaeffer, a friend and teacher, Blau wrote: “If I were not a woman, my works would be viewed not only as independent but also ahead of their time in Vienna, just as they were in Paris and Munich. I am valued by my colleagues, but nonetheless when it really counts for me to be treated as an equal, to be honored and included because of the value of my work, I am always left out.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.