05. June 2008 - 19. October 2008


Photographic Studio and Salon in Berlin 1918-1932

“I have asked Rieß for an exhibition of her photographs, because she creates art using lens and rubber ball”, Alfred Flechtheim wrote in the catalogue to an exhibition of Riess’ portraits in his gallery in 1925.
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 invites particular attention.

In her time, “Riess” – as she was known to her contemporaries – was well-known in the press world and much praised. The internationalism of her clientele gave the legendary “invitations to tea” in the photo studio on Kurfürstendamm a reputation beyond the boundaries of Berlin.

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.

Wilhelm von Bode and Georg Kaiser enthused in a similar way to Flechtheim over Riess’ portraits, and the critic of the “8-Uhr-Abendblatts”, Kurt Pinthus, was positively fervent. Gottfried Benn made an ironic attack on her portrait art, 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. Her 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, born in 1890, came from a Jewish merchant’s family that lived in the Western Prussian town of Czarnikau (now Carnkov) in the province of Poznán, moving to Berlin in the 1890s. In Berlin, she attended the “Photographische Lehranstalt” of the Lette Verein and ran a prestigious studio on Kurfürstendamm after the First World War, from 1918 to 1932.

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 or Max Herrmann-Neiße, which proved productive for her portrait work. This group extended to include dancers, music-hall stars and fine artists: Anna Pavlova, Margo Lion, Mistinguett, Emil Jannings, 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.

Like her colleagues Hugo Erfurth, Madame D´Ora, Lotte Jacobi and Edward Steichen, Riess became a master of the advanced art of portraiture. But when she left Berlin for Paris in 1932, 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 occupation of Paris by the National Socialists in seclusion, and died there in the mid 1950s.

Although Riess’ reputation was quite prodigious during the 1920s, almost every trace of this society photographer’s life and work has been lost over the last eighty years. Several hundred photographs have survived, and with the help of only a few found documents, it has now proved possible to reconstruct her biography in a fragmentary way, so organising the first retrospective show since that legendary exhibition in Flechtheim’s gallery. A comprehensive catalogue appears parallel to the exhibition; it not only presents all the rediscovered photographs and documents, but also includes several essays highlighting interesting research aspects and providing new insights into Riess’ life and work.



Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst
Fotografie und Architektur


05. Juni 2008 | 19 Uhr


Prof. Jörn Merkert
Direktor der Berlinische Galerie

André Schmitz
Staatssekretär, Senatskanzlei - Kluturelle Angelegenheiten, Berlin

Elisabeth Moortgat
Das Verborgene Museum


Wolfgang Unterzaucher
Gedichte von Gottfried Benn


6th June - 20th October 2008


Alte Jakobstr. 124-128 | 10969 Berlin


30.08.2008 | 18:00 - 02:00 Uhr
As Part of
Guided by the Exhibition



FLYER  to the Exhibition

Invitation Card to the Exhibition

PUBLICATIONEN to the Exhibition
Riess | Photographic Studio and Salon in Berlin 1918-1932,
Edited by Marion Beckers, Elisabeth Moortgat | DAS VERBORGENE MUSEUM
Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, Thübingen . Berlin 2008
ISBN 978-3-8030-3 326-0 DE | EN
240 Seiten, 150 Abbildungen in Duoton
Hardcover, DE | EN


Go back