27 December 2017

Atelier Manassé

Atelier Manassé was a legendary Austrian photo studio that captured the golden age of cinema and cabaret in Vienna of the 1920s and 1930s. The studio was founded by Olga Spolarics and her husband Adorján von Wlássics.

Lily Damita
Lily Damita. Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 375/1. Photo: Manassé, Wien / Sascha. Publicity still for Das Spielzeug von Paris/Red Heels (Michael Kertesz a.k.a. Michael Curtis, 1925).

Lily Damita in Das Spielzeug von Paris (1925)
Lily Damita. Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 496. Photo: Manassé, Wien / Sascha. Publicity still for Das Spielzeug von Paris/Red Heels (Michael Kertesz a.k.a. Michael Curtis, 1925).

Olga Tschechova
Olga Tschechova. Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 756. Photo: Manassé, Wien.

Anita Dorris
Anita Dorris. Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5488. Photo: Atelier Manassé.

Lien Deyers
Lien Deyers. Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5693. Photo: Manassé, Wien. Collection: Geoffrey Donaldson Instituut.

Glimpses Into the World of Glamour

Atelier Manassé, active from circa 1924 in Vienna and later also in Berlin, was founded by Adorján von Wlássics (1893-1946) and Olga Spolarics (1896-1969), both born in Hungary. Married in 1920, the Wlassics became part of Vienna’s high society, yet very little is known about their lives, education and training.

In the early 1920s, when the studio started, the film industry skyrocketed. From 1919 to 1922, the Austrian film studios like Sascha produced more than 140 films that found a global market. Popular variety shows flourished as well, bringing international stars such as Josephine Baker and the Tiller Girls, a popular British dance troupe, to Vienna.

Manassé's clients ran the gamut from magazine editors and advertising agencies to private buyers. Magazines aimed to satisfy a public obsessed with glimpses into the world of glamour. The Wlassics published their first film photos in publications like Wiener Magazin. The circa 30 magazines in Vienna needed images to accompany the increasing number of articles on film and theatre, in addition to gossip columns, sports news, fashion pieces and melodramatic stories of murder and mayhem.

Atelier Manassé started at the right time and the Wlassicas created masterpieces. They employed all the techniques of makeup, retouching, and over-painting to keep their subjects and buyers happy while upholding an uncompromised artistic vision. For us today, the studio’s rich visual legacy in part chronicles the golden era of cinema and theatre in Europe.

Kristine Somerville in her article Darkroom Alchemy: The Photographic Art of Studio Manassé at ResearchGate: "Styling, staging and photographic work was handled by Olga. She created the glamorous Manassé vision in their small but dazzling apartment, which also served as their studio in Vienna’s city center. The rooms and reception area were filled with lavish furnishings—bearskin rugs, Baroque furniture, tapestries, gilded mirrors, paintings and Greek pillars used as flower stands—which often appeared as backgrounds or props."

Somerville: "Adorján handled the artistic corrections and montages. He devoted a remarkable amount of time and ingenuity to perfecting techniques— primarily retouching, painting and overlaying images—to enhance Olga’s photographs."

Till 1938 many European but also Hollywood film stars and starlets were photographed in the Manassé studio. Rudolph Valentino, Anna May Wong, French Lily Damita, and the legendary La Jana were among the stars who were photographed by the Wlassics.

Mary Kid
Mary Kid. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3348/3, 1928-1929. Photo: Manassé, Wien.

Maria Paudler
Maria Paudler. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3583/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Manassé, Wien. Caption: Doppelbildnis (double portrait).

Maly Delschaft
Maly Delschaft. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3653/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien.

Vera Voronina
Vera Voronina. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3654/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien.

Nude Photography

Atelier Manassé also gained a high degree of popularity in the 1920s through erotic photographs, mainly of women.

Olga Spolarics (1896-1969) seems to have been the one interested in the nude photography. Atelier Manassé exhibited at the 1st International Salon of Nude Photography in Paris in 1933.

The artists liked to combine erotic with surreal motifs in their photographs. They used retouching techniques to create surreal and noir images that seethe with an erotic symbolism barely concealed beneath a mask of glorious styling, elegant poses, and extravagant costumes.

In 1934, an entire edition of Muskete, a humorous magazine known for its caricature and pictorial jokes, was confiscated by Austrian censors. The Wlassics had failed to remove in the darkroom all traces of pubic hair on their nude cover photo.

The cover picture was one of their 'photographic jokes'. This genre was popularised by postcards  that employed trick photography to depict such images as pretty girls growing on trees, the cherubic face of a loved one appearing in a wreath of pipe smoke or a lithe young woman hanging seductively from a businessman’s necktie.

The Wlassics went back to their studio and amended the photo, and the next month the magazine was republished without issue.

Ossi Oswalda
Ossi Oswalda. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4244/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien.

Anita Dorris
Anita Dorris. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5030/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Manassé, Wien.

Ruth Weyher
Ruth Weyher. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5037/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien.

Liane Haid
Liane Haid. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5034/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Manassé, Wien (Vienna).

Divas and lovers

When Adorján von Wlássics and Olga Spolarics opened a new, smaller studio in Berlin, their business in Vienna was managed more and more by an associate.

They operated under various names, including Wlasics (the first name of the studio), WOG (in their Berlin studio) and Manassé-Ricoll (after the studio in Vienna was operated by an associate).

After the death of Adorján von Wlassics in 1947, the fame of the studio faded. Olga remarried and died in 1969.

In 1998 their photos were rediscovered through the publication Divas and lovers: the erotic art of Studio Manassé, by photographic historian Monika Faber, curator in the department of drawing and photography in the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna.

Billyjane & Drake Caperton regularly post pictures of Atelier Manassé on Facebook and Tumblr.

Gretl Berndt
Gretl Berndt. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5326/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien.

Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5477/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien (Vienna).

La Jana
La Jana. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5485/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Lien Deyers
Lien Deyers. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 8842/1, 1933-1934. Photo: Atelier Manassé, Wien.

Traudl Stark
Traudl Stark. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 1276/1, 1937-1938. Photo: Manassé-Ricoll, Wien / Mondial-Film.

Sources: Monika Faber (Divas and Lovers), Kristine Somerville (Darkroom Alchemy - ResearchGate), Billyjane & Drake Caperton (Facebook and Tumblr - Studio Manasse), Historical Ziegfield Group and Wikipedia (German).


Didier H Baron of A. said...

Important to know that Manasse published also pictures frankly sexual,on the edge of " pornography"'particularly with bd sm tendancies....They are of course by far harder to locate,as you can imagine...But Manasse ,as A.Binder is one of the most famous ateliers of this period.Unfortunately,as the majority of those photographers were jews,they had to emigrate ,or cease their activity...or else.,when NSDAP came to power.They were replaced by ateliers as Quick,Binz,Starstudio u.a.
I don't judge the intrinsic value of those new photographers,in the line of NSDAP aesthetism.And although Ross verlag was still existing ,the founder had fled Germany ,but they keep the name nevertheless.
Consequently no more eroticism or ose pictures.
Remember Adolf Hitler phrase(I quote)"The only pornography tolerated by the Reich is antisemitism "
All is said...

Baron of A.


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Paul van Yperen said...

@Didier: thanks for this great bit of history. It's appreciated. I love as well the work of Atelier Manassé as that of Alex Binder (do you know more about his French period?) Both are uncomparable with their followers in Germany. But German postcards still brought eroticism during the Nazi period. Check out my La Jana post for instance. Va-va-voom.
@ Antonio: Congratulations! You're doing a great job. Sure I'll join the birthday bash.

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Rebecca M said...

Muuuito boa as informações, adoro essas fotografias surrealistas deles. E sempre tô em busca de ver mais, pois são lindas 😍😍. Valeu pelo artigo

Paul van Yperen said...

Obrigado, Rebecca. Seu comentário é muito apreciado. Saudações de Amsterdam, Paul