Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (sometimes also called Else von Freytag-von Loringhoven)[1] (12 July 1874 – 15 December 1927) was a German-born avant-garde, Dadaist artist and poet who worked for several years in Greenwich Village, New York City, United States.

Early life

Freytag-Loringhoven was born Elsa Hildegard Plötz in Swinemünde (Świnoujście), German Empire, to Adolf Plötz and Ida Kleist. Her father, a mason, sexually and physically abused her in her childhood. She practiced prostitution, and had numerous affairs with both men and women throughout her lifetime, including the writer Djuna Barnes.

She studied art in Dachau, near Munich, before marrying in 1901 a Berlin-based architect, August Endell, at which time she became Else Endell. In 1902 she became (with her husband's knowledge) involved in an affair with a friend of Endell's, the minor poet and translator Felix Paul Greve (later the Canadian author Frederick Philip Grove), and all three went to Palermo in late January 1903. They then moved to various places, including Wollerau, Switzerland and Paris-Plage, France. In July 1910, she followed Greve to North America, where they operated a small farm in Sparta, Kentucky, not far from Cincinnati, Ohio. When Grove left her there a year later, he headed west to a bonanza farm near Fargo, North Dakota, and came to Manitoba in 1912. She started posing in Cincinnati, and made her way east via West Virginia and Philadelphia, before she married in November 1913 the German Baron Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven in New York. There, she became known as "the dadaist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven".

Return to the arts

In New York City, Freytag-Loringhoven had very little money, and went back and forth between several jobs before becoming a model for artists like Marcel Duchamp. She began working in art again, creating sculptures and paintings, and making art out of other people's rubbish. It is contested that she is the artistic force behind Marcel Duchamp's famous ready made, Fountain, partly as it is more in line with Freytag-Loringhoven's scatalogical style than Duchamp's. Duchamp also mentions in a letter to his sister that a lady friend of his sent him the urinal. Rediscovered by the Whitney Museum in New York City in 1996, her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp exemplifies her readymade pieces. She also contributed to Manhattan Dada by creating a sculpture titled God. Some of her surreal poems appeared in the magazines The Little Review and transition. She and her husband became estranged during this period.

In 1923, Freytag-Loringhoven went back to Berlin, expecting better opportunities for money, but instead finding an economically devastated post-World War I Germany. Regardless of her difficulties in Weimar Germany, she remained there, penniless and on the verge of insanity. Several friends in the artistic and writing communities, like Djuna Barnes, Bryher, Peggy Guggenheim and Natalie Barney, provided money to buy her a flat in Paris.

Over the next few months Freytag-Loringhoven's mental stability steadily improved in Paris. However, she died on 14 December 1927 of gas suffocation after the gas was left on in her flat. She may have forgotten to turn the gas off, or someone else may have turned it on; the circumstances were never clear. She is buried in Paris, France at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Cultural references

The biography Baroness Elsa, by Irene Gammel, traces the life of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven by viewing her in the context of female dada and the historical battles fought by women in the early twentieth century. The biography also discloses information about the Baroness's bigamy in marrying the Baron Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven in 1913 in Manhattan.

The novel Holy Skirts, by Rene Steinke, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award, is based on the life of the Freytag-Loringhoven. The title Holy Skirts comes from the title of a poem by Elsa.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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