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Trude Fleischmann

1895 – 1990

by Lisa Silverman

Trude Fleischmann, who developed a passion for photography already as a child, rapidly became one of Vienna’s leading portrait photographers soon after opening her own studio at the age of twenty-five. Though she is largely unrecognized today, her outstanding portraits of intellectuals and artists, including Karl Kraus (1874–1936), Peter Altenberg (1859–1919), Adolf Loos (1870–1933), Alfred Polgar (1873–1955), Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), Alban Berg (1885–1935), Bruno Walter (1876–1962), Max Reinhardt (1873–1943), Paula Wessely (1907–2000) and Grete Wiesenthal (1885–1970), remain an important record of twentieth-century European culture. That she was able to continue her successful career after emigrating to the United States attests to her flexibility and talent in a field to which she later referred as the most important aspect of her life.

Born in Vienna on December 22, 1895 as the second of three children in a wealthy Jewish family, Trude Fleischmann attended the Lyceum of the School Association for the Daughters of Civil Servants. Her family, including her father Wilhelm, a salesman originally from Hungary, and mother Adele (neé Rosenberg) constituted a major source of financial and emotional support in her early career. Her training included one semester studying art history in Paris and three years at the “Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie und Reproduktionsverfahren,” where women had been allowed to train in photography only since 1908. Upon finishing her studies in July, 1916 she became an apprentice photo-finisher in the studio of the well-known portraitist Madame D’ora (Dora Kallmus), whose work she greatly admired. Because d’Ora complained about her slow pace, she left after only two weeks. Shortly thereafter, Fleischmann managed to secure a position with photographer Hermann Schieberth, whose clients from the Viennese cultural and intellectual scene greatly interested her. In 1919 she became a member of the Viennese Photographic Society. After three years, with the encouragement of her mother and financial backing of her family, she founded her own studio in 1920. Fleischmann, who never married, had a number of relationships with women.

That Fleischmann was able to pursue a successful career during the economically unsound interwar years speaks to her talent, especially since she did not photograph weddings or baptisms, nor did she remain under contract with any magazines. The boom in photography during the interwar years, which paralleled the growth of magazines, also aided her career. Fleischmann’s artistic portraits of opera, music, dance and theater celebrities soon became indispensable to the Austrian and international print media, including Die Bühne, Moderne Welt, Welt und Mode and Uhu. As her circle of friends in the art world grew, Fleischmann’s studio became a gathering place for Vienna’s cultural elite. Her lack of fixed assignments and clients allowed her more freedom in subject matter and style, as can be seen from the expressive and often erotic manner in which she portrayed the faces and bodies of her subjects. Fleischmann was among the first to photograph the new dance styles in Vienna and in 1925 an exhibit of her photographs featuring dancer Claire Bauroff was confiscated by a Berlin district attorney for indecency.

Fleischmann’s career in Vienna represented part of a trend in which a number of women, many of them Jewish, pursued careers in photography, which, as a relatively new commercial media, was comparatively easy to enter. Like some others, Fleischmann regarded photography as a craft rather than an art, an attitude which also helped open the field to women.

Because of her Jewish background Fleischmann was forced to seek work elsewhere after the Auschluss in 1938. Leaving behind most of her negatives, she emigrated to Paris, London and eventually, with the help of her former student and lover Helen Post (1907–1979), to New York. There Fleischmann pursued a successful career in photography, first together with Post and, after 1940, in her own studio at 127 West 56th Street, which she ran until 1969 together with Frank Elmer, another Viennese émigré. Unlike her earlier work, many of these later photographs feature the New York cityscape, as well as fashion models whom she often photographed for Vogue. Her clients in New York also included emigrants from the European cultural scene such as Elisabeth Berger, Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), Lotte Lehmann (1888–1976), Otto von Habsburg (b. 1912), Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi (1894–1972) and Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957). In 1969 Fleischmann retired to Lugano, Switzerland, claiming she did not want to return to Vienna because of the behaviour of the population during the war. After an accident in 1987 which resulted in the breaking of both her legs, she returned to the United States to live with her nephew, pianist Stefan Carell, in Brewster, New York until her death in 1990.

Bibliography

Auer, Anna and Carl Aigner. Trude Fleischmann. Fotografien 1918–1938. Vienna, 1988; Auer, Anna and Kunsthalle Wien, eds. Übersee. Flucht und Emigration österreichischer Fotografen 1920–1940. Vienna: 1997; Herrberg, Heike, and Weidi Wagner. Wiener Melange: Frauen Zwischen Salon und Kaffeehaus. Berlin: 2002; Schreiber, Hans. Trude Fleischmann. Fotografin in Wien 1918–1938. Vienna: 1990.

More on: Photography
11 Comments

I would like to ask Ms Silverman a question if I may. I am researching an artist who may have used some photographs by Trude Fleischmann as a source and I would like to know more about her life and where her photographs may have been published. I would be grateful if I could be put in touch. Thank you.

JWA has forwarded your message to Lisa Silverman. We hope she will respond to you directly.

Hi there, this message is intended for Lisa. Lisa, I've come across a photo album I believe is Trude's personnel work. I've been looking for some time now, for someone who may be able to identify the work. Could you please share your contact info so I can share more info? the photo's are beautiful.

Dear Jamie, Some of the photos may be of me and/or my family, since the album you have is likely post-war. My mother and Trude's nephew were the best of friends since their teen years. I adored him, and of course, adored Trude. I am so glad that some of her photos are being loved... I surely love the ones I am fortunate enough to have.

Your message has been forwarded. JWA is always happy to bring people together.

Dear Jamie, I have forwarded your message to Ms. Silverman. We hope that she will respond directly to you.

She was the sister of my grand-mother. A very sweet person, cultured and clever. The reason the never married is easy to understand : she loved a man who was married and did not want him to divorce (he did not either). She had a lot of friends, men and women as well, and she used to travel every time she could in order to meet her friends, and the members of her family still living in Europe. I remember when she came for the last time in France. It was in January 1979, in order to see (for the last time), my mother who was very ill and passed in March. I have got a lot of photographs she took of my parents, grand-parents, sister and even my children.Although she was very popular, she never became rich. But she always was generous.

Dear Ms. Barat, My mother and Stefan were the best of friends from their teenage years. I adored him, and Trude, both of whom I knew here in the States. I had the delight of meeting Suzy when I was in Europe many years ago. You come from a very special family, and I am happy to be able to tell you how important they were to me, and how much I loved them.

Your message has been forwarded to Ms. Barat. JWA is always happy to bring people together.

I went to see the Trude Fleischmann exhibition today in Vienna and I was very impressed by the incredibly beautiful pictures of dancers in action and of course of the nude pictures of Claire Bauroff. Nice to learn she loved women - I pretty much thought so when I wachted the pictures. ItÌâå«s a pity that not more is known about her life in New York after she had to leave Austria.

This is a very well written and informative article. Until very recently I had no idea that Trude Fleischmann was so important and successful. I have a beautiful photograph (with her autograph) which she took of me as a two-year-old in Vienna in 1938 (shortly before emigrating to Australia). She also took very beautiful photos of my mother (some naked) who had a Gymnastics studio in the heart of Vienna.

How to cite this page

Silverman, Lisa. "Trude Fleischmann." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 14, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/Fleischmann-Trude>.

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