The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 28, 2016

October 28, 1963

Madame D'Ora is the professional name of the photographer Dora Kallmus. Her photographs of some of the 20th century's leading artists and intellectuals, like Arthur Schnitzler, Karl Kraus, and Gustav Klimt, are noteworthy. Here is an excerpt from a biographical essay Lisa Silverman wrote about Kallmus.

Dora Philippine Kallmus was born on March 20, 1881 to a Jewish family in Vienna.... Though her mother, Malvine (née Sonnenberg), died when she was young, her family remained an important source of emotional and financial support in her career. She became interested in the field while assisting the son of the painter Hans Makart, (1840–1884) and in 1905 became the first woman accepted by the Association of Austrian photographers. At that time she was also the first woman allowed to study theory at the Graphischen Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, which only in 1908 granted women access to other courses in photography.

From January to May 1907 she completed an apprenticeship with portrait photographer Nicola Perscheid (1864–1930) in Berlin. There she met Arthur Benda (1885–1969), who later became her professional assistant. After returning to Vienna she established her own studio with the help of her family. Its name—Atelier d’Ora—reflected her love of French culture. Since d’Ora, as a woman, was unable to receive technical training in photography, the move to open her own studio was unusual and risky. ... Her studio achieved rapid popularity among the Viennese elite and in 1916 d’Ora was asked to photograph the coronation of Kaiser Karl (1887–1922), King of Hungary, after which members of the Imperial family visited her studio.

D’Ora’s early clients also included composer Arthur Grünfeld (1852–1924), opera singer Maria Jeritza (1887–1982) and actors Bernhard Baumeister (1828–1917), Fritzi Massary (1882–1969), Ida Roland (1881–1951) and Alexander Girardi (1850–1918). Her Jewish background also helped her gain clients; through her cousin, actress Rosa Bertens (1860–1934), she gained access to clients in the theater, while her relations with composer Erich Korngold (1897–1957) brought her into contact with the world of music. The prominent position of her father, Dr. Philipp Kalmus (?–1914), as a government lawyer brought people from high levels of the civil service, banking and business to her studio. In 1919, d’Ora converted to Roman Catholicism. She never married.

D’Ora was one of the first photographers to focus on the emerging areas of modern, expressive dance and fashion, particularly after 1920, when fashion photographs started to replace drawings in magazines. While her photographic technique was not radical, her avant-garde subject matter was a risky choice for a commercial studio. However, d’Ora’s photographs, which captured her clients’ individuality with new, natural positions in contrast to stiff, old-fashioned poses, quickly became popular.

From 1921 to1926 d’Ora and Benda spent the summers in Karlsbad seeking international clientele and in 1925 opened a studio in Paris together. However, Benda soon returned to Vienna, causing difficulties for d’Ora; in 1927 he took over her studio there, operating it under the name “d’Ora-Benda-Wien.” After this break, d’Ora and Benda never again spoke to each other.

In Paris d’Ora gained access to the international fashion industry and also received long-term contracts from the fashion magazines
Die Dame and Officiel de la Couture et de la Mode. Her Paris photographs reflect the glamorous style of her clients there, including designer Coco Chanel (1883–1971), art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka (1898–1980), writer Colette (1873–1954) and performer Maurice Chevalier (1888–1972). In addition, d’Ora often published her own short essays to accompany her photos.

D’Ora sold her Paris studio soon after the invasion of the Germans in 1940. Despite her conversion, she remained in danger because of her Jewish background. During the war she hid in a cloister in La Lanvese, in the southern province of Ardèche, and later on a farm. Many of her family were killed in the Holocaust, including her sister Anna.

Both the subject and style of d’Ora’s photographs changed radically after the war. Already in 1945 she documented the plight of refugees at a camp in Austria and in 1956, at the age of seventy-five, completed a series vividly depicting the brutality of Paris slaughterhouses. After she was hit by a motorcycle in 1959, d’Ora lost much of her memory and was unable to work. She spent her remaining years in Frohnleiten, Austria, in the family house that had been forcibly sold under the Nazis but later returned to her. She died on October 28, 1963.

Here is a self portrait, dated as 1925, in Paris.

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