On this day in 1874, the “Mama of Dada” was born. The Baroness
Else von Freytag-Loringhoven, as she was known, was an eccentric bisexual woman,
a living work of art, and the originator of the iconic art piece Fountain.
Else photographed going about her daily life in Harlem, New York on January 10, 1921 (x).
Born Else Hildegard Plötz in Pomerania, Germany, Else’s
father was a mason who afforded the family middle-class status. She began
training as an actress and vaudeville performer at a young age and eventually
moved off to Dachau to study art. After finishing her studies, Else relocated
to Berlin – the heart of German Dada. It was in Berlin where she found a
community of like-minded artists who challenged the era’s gender and sexual
mores and refused to separate their selfhood from their art, but still, she was
one of the few women actively involved in the community. Other women included
the writer Mina Loy and the expressionist painter Gabriele Münter, both with
whom Else had affairs.
In 1901, she married an architect named August Endell
and the two had an open relationship until they divorced in 1906. She was soon
married to a translator named Felix Paul Greve, and although this relationship
would soon fall apart as well, Else’s marriage to Felix would change her life.
In 1909, finding himself penniless and in mountains of debt, Felix convinced
Else to help him fake his own death. The couple’s plan was to disappear from
Germany forever and start a new life in America, but after Else joined her
husband in the U.S., he abandoned her and Else was left alone in a foreign
country with no friends.
In America, she was forced to start her life from the ground up; she found work in a
cigarette factory and she also started modeling for photographers in New York City. It
was through her modeling career in New York City that she met and became
friends with legendary photographers such as Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, powerful connections that, once again, allowed Else to become involved in an artistic society. In
1913, she was finally able to give up the hustle and focus more on her art when she
married the wealthy Baron Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven; during this time,
her poetry was picked up by the prestigious journal The Little Review and her sculptures/“living collages” began
being shown in galleries. In recent years, it has
been discovered that legendary Dada artworks like Fountain
and God that were once attributed to
male artists and close friends of Else, Marcel Duchamp and Morton Livingston
Schamberg, were actually created by Else herself.
In 1921, Else left New York and moved back to Europe. First,
she returned to Berlin, but found it to be a devastated shell of her former home in the aftermath of World War I. She eventually settled in Paris, where she
struggled to make ends meet and had to be financially assisted by her wealthy
friends such as Djuna Barnes and Peggy Guggenheim. Else died a mysterious death
on December 14, 1927; she was found dead in her home, curled up with her beloved
pet dog. The cause of death was pronounced to be gas suffocation, but the exact
circumstances that led to the gas being left on in her apartment are unknown.