Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Biographical Information
Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in costume
Name

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Birth

1874, Swinemünde, Pomerania, Germany

Death

1927, Paris

Country of Origin/Citizenship

Germany/German, American

Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker

Poet, Sculptor, Performance Artist

Avant-Garde Movements Associated With

Futurism, Dada

Date & Places of Overlap with Loy

Munich, early 1900, both studying art. New York, 1916-18. Paris, 1926-27.

Known as the “Mother of Dada,” the Baroness was an emblematic and distinctive figure on the New York art scene. She worked in poetry and sculpture, but her best-known contributions came from her performance art.

Although she shared the title of “Mother of Dada” with Gertrude Stein, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven truly looked and lived the part. Born Else Plötz in 1874 in Swinemünde, Germany, she came to America in 1910. She lived on a farm in Kentucky and worked as an artist’s model in Cincinnati before finding her way to New York, where she settled in Harlem (Gammel 146-54). A quick marriage followed to the German Baron Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven (Gammel 159). In the five subsequent years when the Baron was held captive as a prisoner of war in France, the Baroness began friendships and collaborations with artists and writers such as Marcel Duchamp, Djuna Barnes, and Morton Schamberg (Gammel 163-67).

In 1918, following a brief stint in Philadelphia, three weeks in a Connecticut jail for espionage, and the Baron’s death, the Baroness settled back in New York (Gammel xix). She created a number of proto-Dadaist assemblages during this time, including “Cathedral” and “The Cast-Iron Lover.” Many of the Baroness’s creations were assemblages made from found (or stolen) materials (Jones 5-6). Her work provides a direct precursor to Dada collages and to Loy’s later assemblage art. She also wrote experimental sound poetry pieces, one of which was published in The Little Review at the same time as James Joyce’s Ulysses (Gammel 245-60). The Baroness’s eccentric persona made her a distinctive figure in the New York Dada scene, and she overlapped with Loy in attendance at salons such as the Arensberg apartment. Although the two women were closer to famous men of the movement than to each other, both proved key figures for the Dada movement; at the height of the Ulysses obscenity trial, the editors of The Little Review planned an issue featuring Loy and the Baroness “as a defense of Art.” The women were photographed together by Man Ray for this issue (Burke 287-89).

Although the Baroness was a prolific sculptor and frequently contributed poetry to little magazines such as The Little Review (alongside Loy), her most important contribution to Dadaism was the character of the Baroness herself; many credit her as an early pioneer of performance art. Aggressively enigmatic, she could be found wearing everything from a tin-can bra to a live bird to a set of postage stamps stuck on her face (Lappin 308). The Baroness’s affinity for the Dadaist movement, however, ran deeper than costume. Little Review publisher Jane Heap described her as “the first American dada . . . the only one living anywhere who dresses dada, loves dada, lives dada” (Heap 46). Her prickly, exaggerated public persona was a constant Dada performance, which made her both indispensable to the burgeoning movement and a deeply alienating presence.

Like Loy, the Baroness went through great periods of financial dependency, which led to her move from New York to Berlin in 1923 (Gammel 310). On December 14, 1927, the Baroness was found dead of asphyxiation by gas in her apartment. Although many suspect that her death was suicide, she never left a note (Gammel 382-84). Recently, feminist revisions of the Baroness’s life have led to the release of the first full collection of her poetry, Body Sweats, in 2011.

Works Cited

Burke, Carolyn. Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996. Print.


Gammel, Irene. Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity — A Cultural Biography. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. eBook.


Heap, Jane. “Dada.” The Little Review, vol. 8, no. 2, Spring 1922, 46. https://library.brown.edu/pdfs/1299781611562504.pdf.


Jones, Amelia. Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. eBook.


Lappin, Linda. “Dada Queen in the Bad Boys’ Club.” Southwest Review, vol. 89, no. 2/3, 2004, 307-319.


Other Biographies

Alfred Kremyborg

Alfred Kreymborg

Date Of Birth
1883
Date Of Death
August 14, 1966
Although relatively unknown, Alfred Kreymborg was an influential magazine editor, poet, playwright, literary historian, and node in the networks of
Read More
black and white portrait photograph of Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz

Date Of Birth
January 1, 1864
Date Of Death
July 13, 1946
Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, Alfred Stieglitz made a career as a photographer and gallery owner in New York. His
Read More
André Breton

André Breton

Date Of Birth
February 19, 1896
Date Of Death
September 28, 1966
Andre Breton was born in 1896 in Tinchebray, France. He attended medical school at the Faculté de Médecine in Paris
Read More
Arthur Cravan, Paris, circa 1910.

Arthur Cravan

Date Of Birth
May 22, 1887
Date Of Death
Presumed lost at sea, November 1918
Often referred to as the, enfant terrible, Arthur Cravan was born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd on May 22, 1887 in Laussanne,
Read More
black and white photograph of Basil Bunting

Basil Bunting

Date Of Birth
March 1, 1900
Date Of Death
April 17, 1985
Basil Bunting was born March 1, 1900 in Scotswood-on-Tyne, Northumberland. He spent his formative years studying at two Quaker schools,
Read More
black and white photograph of Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Beatrice Wood taken at the Broadway Photo Shop in New York City c.1917

Beatrice Wood

Date Of Birth
March 3, 1893
Date Of Death
March 12, 1998
Born into a Victorian family, Beatrice Wood struggled to free herself from her mother's desire to "turn [her] into a
Read More
Walker Evans portrait of Berenice Abbott. Circa 1930.Credit Berenice Abbott Archive, Ryerson Image Center. Ronald Kurtz, administered by Commerce Graphics Ltd.

Berenice Abbott

Date Of Birth
July 17, 1898
Date Of Death
December 9, 1991
Noted twentieth century photographer, Berenice Abbott was born on July 17, 1898 in Springfield, Ohio, to Charles E. Abbott and
Read More
black and white portrait photograph of Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten

Date Of Birth
June 17, 1880
Date Of Death
December 21, 1964
Carl Van Vechten is known as a writer, photographer, and patron of some of the most influential figures of the
Read More
Charles Henry Ford: writer, artist, and editor

Charles Henri Ford

Date Of Birth
February 10, 1908
Date Of Death
September 27, 2002
Charles Henri Ford’s emergence onto the modernist literary scene began in 1929 when Ford started publishing the little magazine, Blues:
Read More
black and white portrait photograph of Clara Tice with dog

Clara Tice

Date Of Birth
May 22, 1888
Date Of Death
February 2, 1973
Clara Tice is known as the “Queen of Greenwich Village” due to the role her erotic and revolutionary illustrations played
Read More
Constantin Brancusi

Constantin Brancusi

Date Of Birth
February 21, 1876
Date Of Death
March 16, 1957
Constantin Brancusi was born on February 19, 1876 in the rural village of Hobița, Romania. During childhood, he developed a
Read More
Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov

Date Of Birth
1923
Date Of Death
1997
Though born in Essex, England, Denise Levertov remains an influential poet of the mid-twentieth century American group known as the
Read More
Djuna Barnes

Djuna Barnes

Date Of Birth
June 12, 1892
Date Of Death
June 19, 1982
Djuna was born to Wald Barnes and Elizabeth Chappell on June 12 in 1892 in Cornwall-on Hudson in New York.
Read More
Dorothy Day c.1916

Dorothy Day

Date Of Birth
November 8, 1897
Date Of Death
November, 29 1980
Founder of the Catholic Worker, Dorothy May Day was born to John and Grace Day at their house on 71
Read More
black and white photograph of Elsa Schiaparelli c.1937

Elsa Schiaparelli

Date Of Birth
September 10, 1890
Date Of Death
November 13, 1973
Born on September 10, 1890 to Maria-Luisa and Celestino Schiaparelli, Elsa Schiaparelli grew up in Rome and moved to London
Read More
black and white photograph of Eugene Jolas

Eugene Jolas

Date Of Birth
October 26, 1894
Date Of Death
May 26, 1952
Eugene Jolas was born on October 26, 1894 in Union Hill, New Jersey to parents Eugene Pierre and Christine Jolas.
Read More
Ezra Pound, ca. 1913.

Ezra Pound

Date Of Birth
October 30, 1885
Date Of Death
November 1, 1972
Born in Idaho and raised in Pennsylvania, Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (Ezra Pound) is a considered the father of imagism
Read More
Fernand Léger, c. 1916

Fernand Léger

Date Of Birth
February 4, 1881
Date Of Death
August 17, 1955
Fernand Léger was a notable French artist and filmmaker during the first half of the twentieth century. A Cubist painter,
Read More
black and white portrait photograph of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Filipo Tomasso Marinetti

Date Of Birth
December 27, 1876
Date Of Death
December 2, 1944
Filipo Tomasso Marinetti (born Emilio Angelo Carlo in Alexandria, Egypt in 1876), the face and founder of Futurism, was the
Read More
black and white portrait photograph of Francis Simpson Stevens

Frances Simpson Stevens

Date Of Birth
March 5, 1894
Date Of Death
July 18, 1976
In her early 20s, Frances Simpson Stevens was the lone American at the center of the Futurist movement.
Read More
Francis Picabia

Francis Picabia

Date Of Birth
January 22nd, 1879
Date Of Death
1953
Alongside Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia is one of the founding names in Cubism and Dada. With regards to Dada in
Read More
French art critic and writer of the dada movement

Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia

Date Of Birth
1881
Date Of Death
1985
Gabrielle Buffet-Picabia might be the most quoted witness of the Dada movement, yet she is one of the least studied.
Read More
Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein from their literary archive at Beinecke Library

Gertrude Stein

Date Of Birth
February 3, 1874
Date Of Death
July 27, 1946
Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Gertrude Stein is one of the most prominent figures in American literature. She developed a taste
Read More
Foto giovanile di Papini nel decennio 1910-1920.

Giovanni Papini

Date Of Birth
January 9, 1881
Date Of Death
July 8, 1956
Giovanni Papini was born in 1881 in Florence. From an early age he was a voracious reader of the classics,
Read More
black and white photograph of Glenway Wescott

Glenway Wescott

Date Of Birth
April 11, 1901
Date Of Death
February 22, 1987
Born in 1901 in Kewaskum Wisconsin, Glenway Wescott was the eldest of six children. Wescott left home in 1914 and
Read More
black and white photo of Hermine David

Hermine David

Date Of Birth
April 19, 1886
Date Of Death
December 1, 1970
Often diminished to a footnote in the life of her husband, the painter Jules Pascin, Hermine David was an artist
Read More
Black and white portrait photograph of Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan

Date Of Birth
May 26, 1877
Date Of Death
September 14, 1927
A founder of modern dance and proponent of women’s freedoms, Isadora Duncan was born in 1877, the youngest of four
Read More
James Joyce

James Joyce

Date Of Birth
February 2, 1882
Date Of Death
January 13, 1941
Regarded as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born in Dublin,
Read More
Jane Heap, Mina Loy, and Ezra Pound standing on sidewalk

Jane Heap

Date Of Birth
November 1, 1883
Date Of Death
June 18, 1964
“Jane was her name and Jane her station,” wrote Gertrude Stein in a brief but complimentary consideration of American editor,
Read More
black and white photograph of Janet Flanner

Janet Flanner

Date Of Birth
March 13, 1892
Date Of Death
November 7, 1978
Janet Flanner, who decried the personal “I,” was a technically skilled writer who found diagramming sentences and Parisian newspapers influential.
Read More
Black and white portrait photograph of Jean Cocteau c.1923

Jean Cocteau

Date Of Birth
July 5, 1889
Date Of Death
October 11, 1963
Jean Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, a horse-riding hub 12 miles outside of Paris as the third child of Georges
Read More
Cornell in 1971

Joseph Cornell

Date Of Birth
December 24, 1903
Date Of Death
December 29, 1972
Joseph Cornell was born in 1903 in Nyack, NY, the oldest of four siblings. After his father died of leukemia in
Read More
black and white photograph of Man Ray, Joseph Stella, and Marcel Duchamp c.1920

Joseph Stella

Date Of Birth
June 13, 1877
Date Of Death
November 5, 1946
One of the first leaders of Futurism in America, and a contributor to American Modernism, Joseph Stella was born in
Read More
Jules Pascin (1885 - 1930)

Jules Pascin

Date Of Birth
March 31, 1885
Date Of Death
June 1, 1930
Jules Pascin, named Julius Pincas at birth, was born in Bulgaria on March 31, 1885. Pascin had Italian/Serbian and Spanish/Jewish
Read More
From the Harvard Art Museum Collection

Julien Levy

Date Of Birth
January 22, 1906
Date Of Death
February 10, 1981
Julien Levy was born in 1906 in New York to Edgar Levy and Isabelle Isaacs. He attended Harvard University where
Read More
Katherine S. Dreier standing on stool with palette in from of mural at Saint Paul's School in New York

Katherine Sophie Dreier

Date Of Birth
September 10, 1877
Date Of Death
March 29, 1952
A prominent artist, lecturer, and art patron, Katherine Dreier was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1877 to German-immigrant parents.
Read More
black and white photograph of Kathleen Fraser

Kathleen Fraser

Date Of Birth
March 22, 1935
Date Of Death
February 5, 2019
A contemporary American poet, writer, and visual artist, Kathleen Fraser was born in 1935, in Oklahoma, and raised in Colorado
Read More
Black and white photograph of group of female war correspondents

Lee Miller

Date Of Birth
April 23, 1907
Date Of Death
July 21, 1977
Photographer and model Lee Miller, née Elizabeth, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in April of 1907 to Theodore and
Read More
black and white photograph of Luis Bunuel (Portoles)

Luis Buñuel (Portolés)

Date Of Birth
February 22, 1900
Date Of Death
July 29, 1983
Born on February 22, 1900 to Leonardo Buñuel and María Portolés, Luis Buñuel was raised in Calanda, Spain where he
Read More
Mabel Dodge Luhan wearing turban in yoga pose, circa 1915

Mabel Dodge

Date Of Birth
February 26, 1879
Date Of Death
August 13, 1962
A wealthy American patron of the twentieth-century arts movement, Mabel Evan Dodge Sterne Luhan (Mabel Dodge) hosted modernist salons in
Read More
Man Ray 1965

Man Ray

Date Of Birth
August 27, 1890
Date Of Death
November 18, 1976
Man Ray was born Emanuel Radnitsky to Russian Jewish immigrants in 1890. In his youth, his parents moved from the
Read More
Marcel Duchamp (With Pipe) - Photo by John D. Schiff

Marcel Duchamp

Date Of Birth
July 28, 1887
Date Of Death
October 2, 1968
A Dada pioneer and the most controversial of modern artists, Marcel Duchamp was born one of six siblings on July
Read More
Moore in her tricorn hat and cape

Marianne Craig Moore

Date Of Birth
November 15, 1887
Date Of Death
February 5, 1972
The daughter of John Milton Moore and Mary Warner, Marianne Craig Moore was born in Kirkwood, Missouri in 1887. Although
Read More
black and white portrait photograph of Mary Baker Eddy

Mary Baker Eddy

Date Of Birth
July 16, 1821
Date Of Death
December 3, 1910
In his excoriating book on Christian Science, Mark Twain surprisingly paints its founder Mary Baker Eddy as “the most interesting
Read More
Max Ernst in uniform, c. 1914–1918

Max Ernst

Date Of Birth
April 2, 1891
Date Of Death
April 1, 1976
One of the 20th century’s most influential artists, Max Ernst left his mark on modernism by contributing to the establishment
Read More
The iconic portrait of Nancy Cunard, 1925, photographed by Man Ray © Man Ray Trust

Nancy Cunard

Date Of Birth
March 10, 1896
Date Of Death
March 16, 1965
English heiress to the Cunard Steamship Company, Nancy Clara Cunard was born in the English midlands. The only child of
Read More
black and white portrait photograph of Natalie Barney

Natalie Barney

Date Of Birth
October 31, 1876
Date Of Death
February 2, 1972
Natalie Clifford Barney was born on October 31st, 1876, to Albert and Alice Barney. Her father was heir to a
Read More
black and white photograph of Neith Boyce

Neith Boyce

Date Of Birth
March 21, 1872
Date Of Death
December 2, 1951
Boyce (1872-1951) was the second of five children, all of whom perished in an influenza epidemic when she was six
Read More
black and white photograph of Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim

Date Of Birth
August 26, 1898
Date Of Death
December 23, 1979
Peggy Guggenheim was born on August 26, 1898 to Florette Seligman and Benjamin Guggenheim in New York City. In 1920
Read More
Richard Oelze

Richard Oelze

Date Of Birth
June 29, 1900
Date Of Death
November 26, 1980
Surrealist painter Richard Oelze, born June 29th, 1900 in Magdeburg, Germany to a conservative and well-disciplined family, proved to be
Read More
Robert McAlmon, Image courtesy Clark Art Institute. clarkart.edu

Robert McAlmon

Date Of Birth
March 9, 1895 (some sources say 1896)
Date Of Death
February 2, 1956
Charming and ornery Robert McAlmon was born the last of eight surviving children to an itinerant Presbyterian minister. Raised in
Read More
black and white photograph of Stephen Haweis c.1923

Stephen Haweis

Date Of Birth
July 23rd, 1878
Date Of Death
1969
Born in London, England on July 23rd, 1878, Stephen Hugh Willyams Haweis was the youngest of three children. His parents,
Read More
At her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach

Date Of Birth
March 14, 1887
Date Of Death
October 5, 1962
Sylvia Beach was born in Princeton, NJ in 1887, relocating to Europe when as a volunteer with the Red Cross
Read More
Photo Credit: Alfred Eisenstaedt / LIFE

T.S. Eliot

Date Of Birth
September 26, 1888
Date Of Death
January 04, 1965 Place of Death
One of the most influential intellects of the 20th century, Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot was born on September 26, 1888
Read More
black and white photograph of Thelma Wood

Thelma Wood

Date Of Birth
July 3, 1901
Date Of Death
December 10, 1970
Thelma Ellen Wood was born in Kansas on July 3, 1901 to Maud and William Wood. She was one of
Read More
Tristan Tzara: http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/dada/Tristan-Tzara.html

Tristan Tzara

Date Of Birth
April 16, 1896
Date Of Death
December 15, 1963
Tristan Tzara (Samuel Rosenstock/Rosenstein, also known as S. Samyro), is a Romanian-born playwright, poet, and an editor of magazines such
Read More
black and white passport photograph of "Walter Arensberg"

Walter Conrad Arensberg

Date Of Birth
April 4, 1878
Date Of Death
January 29, 1954
Walter Conrad Arensberg intermingled with and befriended some of the most important artists of the 20th century. He and his
Read More
William Carlos Williams passport photograph c.1921

William Carlos Williams

Date Of Birth
September 17, 1883
Date Of Death
March 4, 1963
William Carlos Williams was born in 1883 to an English father and a Puerto Rican mother in Rutherford, New Jersey.
Read More