Frieda Riess, Self-Portrait, 1922
Frieda Riess, born in 1890, came from a German-Jewish merchant’s family that lived in the Western Prussian town of Czarnikau (now Carnkov in Poland) in the province of Poznán, moving to Berlin in the 1890s. In Berlin, she attended the “Photographische Lehranstalt” of the Lette Verein (she later inspired Marianne Breslauer to enroll there too). After her sudies she ran a prestigious studio on Kurfürstendamm, from 1918 to 1932.
Frieda Riess, The Painter Xenia Boguslawskaja, 1922
Riess’ marriage to the poet and journalist Rudolf Leonhard at the beginning of the 1920s led to contact with his friends and acquaintances among theatre people, actresses and actors, including Walter Hasenclever, Tilla Durieux, Gerhart Hauptmann, Ivan and Claire Goll, which proved productive for her portrait work. This group extended to include dancers, music-hall stars and fine artists: Anna Pavlova, Mistinguett, Lil Dagover, Renée Sintenis, Max Liebermann and Xenia Boguslawskaja. Boxers and, above all, representatives of the old aristocracy, diplomats, politicians and bankers associated in the illustrious circle as well. Riess travelled to Paris, London and Rome, where she moved in similar literary and aristocratic circles.
Frieda Riess, Claire Goll,1926
Like her colleagues Hugo Erfurth, Madame D´Ora, Lotte Jacobi and Edward Steichen, Riess became a master of the advanced art of portraiture. The solo exhibition of 177 portraits in Alfred Flechtheim’s gallery in 1925 played a decisive part in this appreciation of the photographer. Flechtheim was one of the leading collectors and dealers in modern art during the 1920s. “I have asked Rieß for an exhibition of her photographs, because she creates art using lenses and rubber balls”, Flechtheim wrote in the catalogue. At that time it was somewhat surprising for one of Berlin’s leading art dealers to show photographs, and the fact that he refers to photography as art invited particular attention.
Frieda Riess, Gottfried Benn, 1924
Auf die Platten die Iche
tuschend mit Hilfe des Lichts,
die Gestalten, die Striche
Ihres - Linsengerichts.
Gottfried Benn (with whom she had a short affair) wrote this ironic attack on her portrait art in 1924, the French painter Marie Laurencin gushed praise in Paris, and the writer Vita Sackville-West sent enthusiastic accounts back to London of the circle that gathered for tea in Riess’ studio ("Shifty figures between exquisite portraits" she wrote to Virginia Woolf). Riess' nude shots - the male nudes of boxers in particular - reflect the erotically charged atmosphere in the studio, which became an exclusive meeting place at exhibition openings.
Frieda Riess, The Boxer Erich Brandl, 1925
Since 1930 Frieda Riess had a liaison with the French ambassador to Berlin, Pierre de Margerie, whom she followed to Paris in 1932. There, her creative photography obviously came to a halt. As yet, no works from that period have been found, and even biographical traces disappeared into near obscurity. From 1940 to 1945, she survived the German occupation of Paris in seclusion, and died there in the mid 1950s.