Baroness Ella Parnegg 1924


For picture description see below

JQAW# P_1924_020
Oil on canvas, dimensions unknown but probably ca. 125 x 90 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams 24.
Unknown private collection, USA
Image: color postcard of the portrait with sitter's own handwritten dedication to the artist, Künstlerhaus Archive Vienna.

¾ Portrait in sitting position in oblique view from the left, the head turned towards the viewer, looking directly at him. The sitter has her legs crossed and her hands, resting on her left thigh, intertwined. She wears a sleeveless gold lame dress, over it a light gray coat, which is trimmed at the sleeves with gray fur, her brown hair is cut short and wavy. As jewelry, she wears a single-strand pearl necklace, pearl ear clips, and a pearl ring. The sitter is sitting on a gray stone bench with a green deck with a light green hem spread over its backrest. A park landscape and a cloudy gray sky are visible in the background.

Baroness Ella (Gabriella Mária Karolina Paulina) Pollak von Parnegg, née Kövér de Gyergyószentmiklós (Kövér-Gyergyó-St.M iklós), remarried Fodor, 1.4.1892 Tiszaföldvár (Hungary) to 7.9.1981 Los Angeles, a life on two continents.
Ella Kövér was born in 1892 into a Hungarian noble family with Armenian roots and baptized as Roman Catholic. The family was originally called Ákoncz, was nobilitated in 1780, and took the name of the town of Gyergyószentmiklós (present-day Gheorgheni in Romania), where they had settled around 1700. Ella's father Miklós (1870-1930) was an actor and theater director, and her mother Blanka, née Hieronymi (1873-1911) came also from a Hungarian minor nobility family and was married a total of three times. No sources are available about Ella's childhood. On February 27, 1915, she married the Viennese industrialist Friedrich Edwin (Frigyes Ervin) Pollak von Parnegg (1871-1930), partner of the textile company Hermann Pollak's Söhne, landowner (Marienhof estate in Siegenfeld in Burgenland on the Hungarian border) and very wealthy. This and the age difference of 20 years between the spouses suggests an "arranged" marriage, as was widespread among the upper middle classes and also the aristocracy around 1900.

The textile company Hermann Pollak's Söhne was founded by Hermann (Isak Hirsch) Pollak (1807-1881) and continued and expanded by his sons Leopold (1839-1922) and Berhard (1847-1911) Pollak. Berhard's son Dr. Bruno Pollak, as well as Leopold's sons Felix, Friedrich Edwin, Leopold (Leo), and Dr. Otto Pollak (who was married to Hilda von Auersperg, see her Adams portrait) also joined the company and were partners in the very successful firm. Also worth mentioning is Leopold's (senior) daughter Gisela, married Baroness Groedel, who was also portrayed by Adams in 1908. In 1910, the 6 members of the Pollak family without Otto taxed (at a rate below 5 percent) about 2.2 million crowns income, Friedrich Edwin about 155,000 crowns, which made them all millionaires (Sandgruber, 2013, pp. 415-416. Sandgruber classifies millionaires based on an income above 100,000 crowns annually. By comparison, a skilled/industrial worker earned about 1,000 crowns annually, and agricultural workers and domestic servants earned less than 200 crowns annually). Due to economic success and substantial charitable donations, the brothers Berhard and Leopold were nobilitized by Emperor Franz Josef I. Berhard in 1907, Leopold in 1903 with the title "Edler von Parnegg", which was raised to "Freiherr von Parnegg" in 1918. The Pollak family was Jewish. Leopold, however, converted to the Catholic faith, Bernhard, on the other hand, adopted four Stars of David as his noble coat of arms. The nobilitization also extended to family and descendants, which is why Friedrich Edwin and also Ella called themselves "Baron" and "Baroness" respectively, an emphasis that continued to be used in everyday life even after nobility titles and names (the “von”) were abolished in 1919 in Austria. The catalogue also follows this practice adopting the title as given by the artist for the Künstlerhaus exhibition in 1924 as "Baroness Ella Parnegg". Friedrich Edwin, however, officially adopted the name "Parnegg" in 1923 (Prague, October 17, 1923 file B215/ai 225461), probably also in order to discard the name Pollak, which had Jewish connotations.

Friedrich and Ella Parnegg lived mostly in Vienna in a representative apartment in Weihburggasse 30, on their estate in Siegenfeld, or on trips (Ella especially often at the feudal Südbahnhotel at the Semmering mountain). The marriage was blessed with children: Son Leopold/Poldi (Victor Maria) in 1923 and son Hermann (Johannes Friedrich) in 1925 (both died in the USA in 2003), events which the proud parents had published several times with photos in the press. The highlight of the publicity was in 1926, when the present Adams portrait of Ella was published on the front page of the Wiener Salonblatt (7.3.1926 p.1). Ella participated in numerous social events, especially in the network of the Hungarian diaspora in Vienna. Her spectacular gowns at the "Hungarian Ball" (a charity event of the St. Stefan Society in the rooms of the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna) or at the traditional Derby (the family Pollak-Parnegg also kept race horses) were regularly discussed in the press, such as her gold lamee dress in which she was also portrayed by Adams. This "high society" lifestyle, which was maintained even after the end of the monarchy, came to an abrupt (albeit short-lived) end on March 17, 1930. Frederick Edwin committed suicide by shooting himself in his office. The reasons for this remain a mystery. The press reports of gambling debts, or problems with the banks, but economic problems of the company were not actually present, which makes the suicide all the more puzzling. In 1932, Friedrich's brother Felix also committed suicide spectacularly in the Viennese Urnenhein (urn cemetery); again, there seemed no obvious family or economic reasons (Sandgruber, 2013:416).

After an appropriate period of mourning and withdrawal from social life, Ella resumed her fashionable life after 1932. A press release dated 13.9.1932 (Wiener Sonntags und Montagsblatt p.8) reports a new relationship with Hungarian author, film scriptwriter, and journalist Ladislaus (László) Fodor (1898-1978). In the words of the press article, "a union of one of the most interesting men in Vienna with one of the most beautiful women," a union that also led to marriage between Ella and Ladislaus Fodor at an unknown date (probably around 1946-1949 in the USA) (it was his third). 1938 brought a dramatic turn with the so-called "Anschluss", i.e. the extermination of Austria. Ladislaus Fodor, being Jewish, had to emigrate to the USA via France. Ella and her children remained in Vienna. In 1940 Ella moved to a new (upper middle-class) apartment in Vienna Zedlitzgasse 8, from 1941 she made a point of emphasizing the title "Baroness" in her entry in the Lehmann address book, probably also to counter anti-Semitic hostility based on her name (the "Pollak" in the Parnegg name was by no means forgotten).

Probably after the end of the war (date unknown) Ella emigrated to the USA, her sons followed: Hermann in July 1946 (US citizenship 1949), Leopold/Poldi in 1948 (US citizenship 1952). Ella and Ladislaus Fodor lived in Los Angeles. Ella worked as a secretary, Ladislaus as a screenwriter in Hollywood. In the 1950s Ladislaus Fodor moved to Germany, where he worked in the film industry. However, he returned to the U.S. and to Ella at a later date. Ladislaus died in Los Angeles in 1978, Ella there on 7.9.1981 (a different source gives 9.9.1981). They are united in their common grave in the "Holywood Forever" cemetery (Garden of Memory). Their lives spanned two continents from Central Europe to North America, triggered by the catastrophes of World War II and the Shoa.

The portrait of Baroness Ella Parnegg is one of Adams' most accomplished late works. The consistent application of the Whistler-inspired tone-in-tone principle, in this case various shades of gray enlivened only by a few color accents (green, gold), results in a charismatic portrait that successfully combines both the beauty and character of the sitter and her staging in the style of the "roaring twenties." The family apparently had color postcards of the portrait made, and as the sitter's dedication to the artist ("In grateful memory of the great master Ella P.") shows, was obviously highly satisfied with the portrait. The painting remained in the possession of the sitter, but when she left for the United States, it initially continued to remain in Vienna and possibly in the possession of others. In 1965, the painting was exported to Albuquerque in the USA by the art dealer Kurt Kalb on behalf of Hermann Parnegg, the sitter's son, with the permission of the Federal Monuments Office (BDA Zl. 4195/65). This export was expressly not declared as a private export, which could mean that the portrait was repurchased by the family from unknown third-party ownership, or simply that the art dealer handled the transport and official procedures (export application and license) for the family. After the death of Hermann Parnegg in 2003, the portrait came at an unknown time into a private collection in the USA, which could not be identified by the descendants (or who did not want to pass on the information). It is unfortunate that the portrait thus lost its family connection and now merely graces the home of the new owner(s) as decorative art. The purpose of this catalog raisonné is to reunite the art and the biographies of the portrayed and the social environment in which the work was created.

Sources used:
Origin of the Kövér de Gyergyószentmiklós family: kind communication from Attila Kálmán based on Hungarian archival sources.
Roman Sandgruber, Traumzeit für Millionäre, Styria, WIen, 2013, 495 pp.
ANNO Austrian Newspapers Archive Online
US immigration and death records via FamilySearch


1924 Künstlerhaus Wien, XLV. Annual Exhibition #398 (KH EL 72 1924/25 #2306)


APH, catalog raisonné JQA 1995, p. 186, cat.#153, no illus.


The sitter,
and her family descendants,
private collection USA.
After 2003 given to unknown person,
unknown private collection, USA.