A Woman to Know: Teresa Feoderovna Ries

Her story, like those of so many other female artists from the fin-de-siecle Vienna, ends with the same result: they have not only been unfairly forgotten, they have suffered displacement. — Julie M. Johnson

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


At 20, Teresa (scandalously) divorced her husband. She left her native Russia, moved to Vienna and then organized an avante-garde troupe of female artists and refused to wear anything but loose, sack-like painting smocks. She frustrated her art professors so much that they (famously) kicked her out of school in the early 1910s. But the people adored her work. She sculpted a bust of Mark Twain during his time in Vienna, and her statues lined famous promenades.

And this is why I adore Teresa: one of the first sculptures she ever submitted for recognition in art school was a plaster casting of a naked old witch snipping her toenails. Her art professors hated "The Witch." It's hideous. It's beautiful. I love it.

But when the Nazis came to Vienna, the city ceased to celebrate her work. Her once-lauded pieces — a large-scale statue of Lucifer, a Rodin-like series of female figures, an "Eve" — were trashed. In 1938, the Nazis ordered Teresa to turn her studio space over to Aryan artists. And once Teresa and other Jewish creatives fled Austria at the start of the war, she never returned. Bombs and soldiers destroyed many of her pieces — including my beloved "The Witch." Today, her surviving works are missing limbs and chunks of stone.

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