From the Vault: Highlight From Special Collections & Archives: Paula’s Album

By Suzy Taraba ’77, MALS ’10, Director of Special Collections & Archives

Paula Beer-Hofmann, the wife of the Austrian dramatist and poet Richard Beer-Hofmann, died in Switzerland on October 30, 1939, as she and her husband were leaving their home in Austria for a new life in America, far away from Hitler’s regime. Heartbroken but still determined to flee his native country, Richard Beer-Hofmann traveled on alone.

Five years later, Beer-Hofmann inscribed a carefully assembled photograph album, now held by Special Collections & Archives, to his old friend Otto Kallir. Containing 30 portraits of his beloved Paula, beginning a year after they met in 1895 and continuing through their middle years together in Berlin and Vienna, the album offers a poignant glimpse of a young woman during a golden age of art and letters that was soon to change forever. Otto Kallir, a well-known art dealer and publisher, also left Austria in 1939 and made a new start in New York. A decade later, he edited Beer-Hofmann’s autobiographical writing, Paula: Ein Fragment, and published it in an edition of 360 copies for the Richard Beer-Hofmann Society, established not long after the playwright’s death in 1945.

Paula’s album includes several portraits by prominent photographers Nicola Perscheid and Dora Kallmus, often known as Madame d’Ora. Best known as the inventor of the Perscheid lens, developed specifically for soft-focus, large-format portraits, Perscheid had a portrait photography studio in Berlin from 1905 to 1912. Among his students who became celebrated photographers in their own right were Arthur Benda and Dora Kallmus. The Viennese studio they opened together in 1907 quickly became very popular with the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy and noted artists, writers, and performers. The images of Paula Beer-Hofmann in our album are wonderful examples of early 20th-century European photographic portraiture, and they capture the mood of elite society in those heady days not long before the First World War.

Shown here is an image of Paula Beer-Hofmann taken by Madame d’Ora, likely with the collaboration of Arthur Benda, in the Vienna studio. Dora Kallmus was especially well-known for her society portraits and fashion photography after she left Vienna for Paris in the late 1920s. At a time when many women took up amateur photography but few were allowed to pursue formal training, Dora Kallmus became the first woman admitted to the premier Austrian photographic society. This evocative image of Paula is a classic example of Madame d’Ora’s early work: a soft-focus, pictorialist style and a pose that plays with the conventions of studio portraiture.

This lovely album and Paula: Ein Fragment are just two of hundreds of volumes of Austrian and German literature that were given to Wesleyan in 2006 by the Kallir Family in honor of Barbara Kallir, Class of 1983. The collection is especially rich in the works of Beer-Hofmann, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Joseph Roth, among others. In celebration of the Kallirs’ gift, highlights from the collection were exhibited in Olin Library, October 24 through November 27, 2012. An opening reception, with remarks, was held on October 24 in the Smith Reading Room of Olin Library. UPFRONT

—SUZY TARABA ’77, MALS ’10, Director of Special Collections & Archives

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