the Baroness balances a birthday cake

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1875-1927) was known as the Queen of the Dada Movement.

Elsa found here

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.

Djuna found here

Elsa married August Endell in April 1901 but by 1903 she had left him for his friend Felix Greve. In July 1909, Greve disappeared from Germany after staging his own suicide. Elsa played a part in the faked suicide, she sent a letter to his publishers accusing them of working her late husband to death. He sailed from Liverpool to Montreal, where he renamed himself. Later, as the Canadian author Frederick Philip Grove, he described staging his death and reinventing himself in his first autobiography. 

Felix Greve found here

It is unclear how Elsa made her way to New York. However, it was there she met and married Baron Leo von Freytag-Loringhoven, the black sheep of his illustrious family, in November 1913. Through her marriage to Leo von Freytag-Loringhoven she became a Baroness but little is known about their relationship. Baron von Loringhoven hurried back to Germany at the outbreak of the war and then, not liking war, shot himself – an act which his wife characterized as the bravest of his life. 

black sheep found here

From 1917 on, she published a fair amount of her mostly Expressionist and sometimes Dada-style poetry in various magazines. She also created “ready made” sculptures and collages from random items she stole or salvaged from the trash. Her most famous “ready made” is the plumbing pipe irreverently called “God”

God found here

By the early 1920s, von Freytag-Loringhoven had become a living legend in Greenwich Village. Often arrested for her revealing costumes and ongoing habit of stealing anything that caught her eye, she “leaped from patrol wagons with such agility that policemen let her go in admiration“. She continued to pose for artists, and appeared in a short film made by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp descriptively titled The Baroness Shaves Her Pubic Hair.

Duchamp and Ray playing chess found here

Margaret Anderson vividly recalls the Baroness’ first entrance into the Little Review’s office: “So she shaved her head. Next she lacquered it a high vermilion. Then she stole crêpe from a house of mourning and made a dress of it. She came to see us. First she exhibited the head at all angles, amazing against our black walls. Then she jerked the crepe with one movement. It’s better when I’m nude, she said.”

Elsa found here

When many of her friends moved to Paris after the First World War, von Freytag-Loringhoven tried desperately to join them. Eventually she returned to Berlin in April 1923 – a time when inflation of the German currency was at its worst. She was reduced to selling newspapers on a street corner of the Kurfüstendamm in the winter of 1923–1924 and was a more or less permanent inmate of several insane asylums. Her outrageous blackmail attempts and demanding propositions to André Gide, George Bernard Shaw, and perhaps other celebrities for living expenses did little to keep her out of trouble. Her notoriously elaborate costumes were not of much help either. In an undated letter to Djuna Barnes, von Freytag-Loringhoven describes an ensemble she wore to the French Embassy in Germany:

Andre Gide found here

“I went to the consulate with a large, wide sugarcoated birthday cake upon my head with fifty flaming candles lit – I felt just so spunky and affluent! In my ear I wore sugar plumes or matchboxes – I forget which. Also I had put on several stamps as beauty spots on my emerald-painted cheeks and my eyelashes were made of gilded porcupine quills – rustling coquettishly – at the consul – with several ropes of dried figs dangling around my neck to give him a suck once and again – to entrance him. I should have liked to wear gaudy colored rubber boots up to my hips with a ballet skirt of genuine gold paper with lace paper covering it (to match the cake) – but I couldn’t afford that! I guess that inconsistency in my costume is to blame for my failure to please the officials?

Cake Head found here

The true circumstances of von Freytag-Loringhoven’s death are still unclear. On December 14, 1927, she died of asphyxiation when the gas in her room at the Rue Barrault was left on overnight.

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49 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m just dashing off to the deli to get a rope of figs to wear….in the hope someone gives me a suck now and then.

    • Best of luck with that Affer

  2. Those black sheep are terrifying. I think she’s probably right that it was just inconsistency in her costume that failed to please the officials…

    • Yes that damned inconsistency has let me down at times too

  3. Black sheep are much maligned in my humble opinion *chews on some grass*

    • You can’t fool me daddyp

  4. At least she’s no longer using up resources, what a talent 😦 I would have beheaded her the instant she appeared in court. So spunky and effluent.

    The King

    • I thought you liked spunky 😉

  5. Maybe she tried to create another masterpiece, and pulled the Gas line loose. I’m all into Steam Punk Art, but, for that to be God, wouldn’t it be fused to a 4 faced creature, with wheels and wings all over, for it to be 18th century functional?
    God Bless You…
    and the kitchen sink!!!

    • Perhaps Dadaism was the daddy of Steam Punk

  6. Gilded Porcupine quills should be the fashion statement of 2012. There have been occasions when I have been accused of having an ungilded porcupine quill.

    • If that’s the least you’ve been accused of then you’re doing well Archie

  7. Her unusual sculptures and collages should have brought her enough fame to give her a comfortable living. When I think of some of the other famous works of art such as Carl Andre’s pile of bricks and Marcel Duchamp’s urinal. A plumbing pipe called God? Sheer genius…

    • Ooh I like Duchamp’s urinal

  8. Some of it sounds like a fun life.

  9. The black sheep in the picture are adorable… Actually, i find all sheep adorable.

    • I like one or two, but not en masse

  10. I was disappointed that you included no video of the Baroness shaving her pubic hair! If you had, it would have been “just so spunky and affluent!” of you.

    I’m crazy about the “plumbing pipe irreverently called God.”

    Sounds like Elsa had one of her bravest moments there at the end.

    • Unfortunately the film was destroyed in processing

  11. I hope she took the time to clean that sculpture out…
    looks like it could have been a little… ripe…
    *sniff sniff*

    • Do you have a cold SIG?

  12. I think I might have liked her, but I’m not sure. She reminds me of a girl I dated once. Well, twice actually, but I’m not counting the second time.

    • Don’t count it, just blog it

  13. Another fascinating life Nursie. I presume the film of her shaving certain parts still exists somewhere

    • Unfortunately not

  14. How come there wasn’t ever a Mama movement?

  15. I’m liking the vermillion head-do. Maybe that’s what I need – a nice medium blue to match my car. The ultimate “gearhead” adornment!

    • I just changed my streaks from vermilion to violet!

  16. Do you think your readers share many of her traits?
    Personally I enjoy creating stuff from recyclable junk. If you are interested I have a page on my blog displaying some. But I never called one God. So God did have something to do with the internet tubes.

    • Thanks for the link lisleman, your creations are adorable

  17. …hello gal,
    still unclear for me why women shave the pubic hair if they are not prostitutes?
    Is not that I prefer one thing over the other, is more of why?
    Is not more feminine…
    In my opinion, is somewhat crazy that many put plastic into their bodies, but I can understand the situation, but
    totally shaving the Venus part is something that remains unsolved for me

    • Yes, I would never shave the pubic area. I prefer to have it waxed!

      • Or lasered

  18. what the heck?
    My nick is Reverb not the one that for some reason appeared

  19. I’m torn — I want a birthday cake hat, but I’m kind of afraid that the candles will drip onto my face.

    • I’d be more afraid the hat would catch fire

  20. the film would absolutely make me bristle…

  21. I think the black sheep are kind of cute.

    As to the Baroness, her outifts as described would be leaps and bounds over the outfit in that first photo. Sounds like she was a pre-Lady Gaga. 🙂

    Too much politics wrapped up in Dadaism. Never been able to be terribly interested in it.

    • It’s still a pretty wild outfit for its time

  22. “It’s better when I’m nude, she said.”

    A lot of things are better when female nudity is involved. Or at the very least made more tolerable.

    • Partial nudity is even better, the girls have to sit down sometimes you know 😉

  23. After reading this lovely and interesting piece, the only thought that ran through my mind was whether she preferred coffee or tea.

  24. May Ray is about to checkmate Duchamps the way your Baroness mated and checkmated everybody.

    • Astute observation Mitzi

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