Ida Lichtenstern Kohn Nauss ca. 1907

Bust Portrait, side view, her head turned towards and looking directly at the viewer with a beautiful smile. The sitter wears a white dress and over it a semi-transparent black chiffon with a black trim, on her head an enormous black, round hat, embellished with black feathers that flow from the center of the hat over its front brim. The painting background is abstract, consisting of brown-tones structured by brushstrokes.

JQAW# P_1907_010
Oil on wood, oval 80 x 72 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams
Private collection USA
Picture: status as per ca. 1985, after a professional restoration
Photo credit: Gwen Tauber

Ida, née Lichtenstern, married Kohn, remarried Nauss, 8.3.1875 Vienna to 29.11.1960 Vienna, effervescent and sportive beauty.
Ida Lichtenstern was born into a prosperous Viennese Jewish family. Her father Heinrich Lichtenstern (1837-1895), owned the Lilien Porcelain factory in Wilhelmsburg [note 1]. On 3.2.1895, barely at the age of 20, Ida was married to Philip Kohn (1857-1917), an equally prosperous industrialist, almost twice her age. After the turn of the century he owned what was probably the largest clock and watch firm in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Szentgotthárt [note 2]. Ida and Philip had two children, a daughter Anny (1895-1993) and a son Walter (1897-1932). The family lived in an apartment in the Atlashof at I., Franz Josefskai 1.

Due to the difference in age and temperament, the marriage ended in divorce (18.4.1905 -- before 1919 divorce was not possible for Catholics in Austria, exemptions existed for other denominations, most notably Jews). After their parents’ divorce, the children were assigned to their father, as was the custom, and remained in the Atlashof apartment, initially under the eye of their father’s sister, Aunt Fanny Klinger and later of a nanny (Tante Gin Zak) who remained in the family for two generations. Though Ida was never allowed in the apartment again, she maintained contact with her children. Both children were sent to private secondary schools from 1910 on. While the Adams portrait is undated, it is clear that it was painted before June 20th, 1911 when Ida sent a photograph of it as a Correspondenz-Karte (see cross-references) to her daughter at school in Dresden (the painting was in a different frame then, one used several times by Adams).

Ida, conscious of her beauty, was a vivacious member of Vienna’s Jewish upper-bourgeoisie. Her German was littered with French expressions, a legacy of her family background where her mother was always known as Madame Caroline.

Ida remarried on 20.5.1915 with Friedrich (Fritz) Nauss/Nauß (1876-1946) who was at the time an officer in the k.u.k. Army (see cross-references). Although he was Catholic, they were married in the Seitenstettengasse Tempel. Ida left the Kultusgemeinde at the end of 1924. The painting hung in their apartment in IX., Kolingasse 19 (in the current frame). After 1945, the portrait hung in her post-war home in IX., Porzellangasse 14.

Ida’s adventurous nature made her one of the first female skiers of the time (see cross-references) and an avid skater in pair-dancing in Vienna’s Eislaufverein on Heumarkt. Her grandchildren aged 10 and 8 in 1930, remembered interrupting Ida’s dancing with a number of gentlemen to urge her to take them home because they were freezing. She chided them for having called her ‘grandmother’ in front of her skating partner and insisted that they call her Ida from that point on.

Endowed with a very lively imagination, she was a brilliant story-teller, capable of spinning endless fantastic and gripping tales to the enjoyment of both her children and grandchildren. She was a very competent pianist and delighted in entertaining her listeners with a variety of piano tricks.

In the 1950’s, Ida told a humorous story involving her portrait. Having lost a maid, she was interviewing applicants to replace her. Leading one of them around her apartment, she proudly pointed to her portrait. The girl’s thoughtful response was “Ja, ja. Eine Ruine war auch einmal ein schönes Schloss” (Ah, yes, a ruin, too, was once a gorgeous castle).
Ida was a free spirit and a strong and intelligent woman. These qualities served her well in dealing with the vicissitudes of her life, particularly the premature and tragic death of her son Walter in extraordinary circumstances in Bolivia in 1932 (see the excursus on Walter Kohn below). Despite these reversals of fortune, she maintained her wonderful sense of humor into her old age.

Ida and her husband Fritz Nauss remained in Vienna throughout the Nazi regime. Ida’s “mixed marriage” to a Catholic, as well as Fritz's respected position as Eichamt (office of weights and measures) Oberinspektor and Regierungsrat provided some protection, but the threat of deportation must have been looming always. It is said that Fritz’s death in 1946 was the result of malnutrition. Ida’s daughter survived the war in Romania and returned to Vienna in 1949. She and her mother remained close for the rest of her life.

Ida Lichtenstern Kohn Nauss died in her Porzellangasse apartment on November 29, 1960 in the company of her daughter. She is buried in the Lichtenstern family crypt in Döbling, united with her husband Fritz and her brother Richard who was a support throughout her life, especially after her divorce and in the period when her son Walter was imprisoned in Bolivia.

The portrait of Ida Lichternstern-Kohn-Nauss is unique among Adams’ portraits. Based on stylistic considerations (see the 1905 portrait of Martha Brünner in the cross references) it is dated here as ca. 1907 (but could also be earlier, i.e. 1905, and based on a photograph, that has survived in the family’s possession, dates definitively before 1911, see cross-references). As such it is far ahead of its time in terms of its expressionistic brushstrokes and its abstract background. Most notably, it is the only Adams portrait where the sitter smiles, and particularly charmingly in this case. It seems unlikely that the portrait was made as a formal commission. It would have been both highly unusual as well as financially imprudent to commission a portrait at or after a divorce. (The price tag of an Adams portrait even in his earlier career was high: around 1907 of some 3,000-5,000 Kronen per portrait, i.e. 3-5 times the annual income of an average worker.) So it is quite possible that the portrait was made as a gift because Adams and the sitter were friendly, most likely due to their shared passion for skiing where Ida was an early female pioneer and Adams served as skiing instructor for the First Vienna Winter Sport Club, which he co-founded in 1905. Presumably, outside of a formal commission, Adams did not feel compelled to follow the portrait conventions of the time where background, dress and accessories had to signal the social status of the sitter. Adams also strictly applied in the present portrait the tone-in-tone color scheme inspired by Whistler, which he did as consistently only in several portraits much later in the 1920s. In any case, the portrait of Ida Lichtenstern-Kohn-Nauss is a pathbreaking one for Adams and rightly deserves to be presented to a wider audience in this catalogue raisonné, as the painting was never publicly exhibited.

[1] Wilhelmsburg porcelain dates back as early as 1795. Heinrich Lichtenstern bought the factory in 1883, and the business was greatly expanded by Ida’s brother Richard Lichtenstern (1870-1937) and continued after the war by his son Conrad Henry Lester (1907-1996, who changed his name during his exile in the US). Its 1960s pastel-colored “Daisy” designs are celebrated in Austria. Production in Wilhelmsburg came to an end in 1997.
[2] Originally a clock whole- and retail seller in Vienna, Philip Kohn bought and rebuilt the First Hungarian Clock Factory in Szentgotthárt (St. Gotthard at the Austrian-Hungarian border) destroyed after a fire in 1904. The company prospered until Philip's death in 1917, but with the collapse of the monarchy and its common market faced increasing difficulties. In 1929 its ailing business was relocated to Vienna by Philip’s son Walter Kohn.

Biographical entry written by the grandson, Kurt Philip Tauber and the great-grand-daughters, Elizabeth Sissi Gill and Gwen Michèle Tauber of the sitter (art-related text by the Editor).

Excursus: The life, adventures and death of Walter Kohn.

Walter Kohn, the only son of Ida Lichtenstern and Philip Kohn, was born in Vienna in 1897. (His only sister Anny was born in 1895.) He inherited his mother's charm, joie de vivre, and flamboyant imagination, and his father's stern sense of honor and social responsibility. Intelligent and ambitious, Walter also was very self-confident. That self-confidence, at times, misled him into adventurous recklessness. When Philip Kohn died in 1917, the Austro-Hungarian army released Walter, a highly decorated officer, from war service to take over his father's prominent clock and watch firm. At the age of 20, Walter shepherded his firm through the Empire's collapse in 1918, and the following devastating inflation. The Great Depression of 1929 brought his enterprises close to bankruptcy, burdening them with huge debts. Guided by his sense of honor, Walter was determined to repay his creditors every penny. The way to do that, Walter decided, was to prospect for gold in Bolivia.

Walter Kohn and two companions trekked into Bolivia's vast forests. Two weeks later, Walter, alone, returned to La Paz. His two companions were found shot dead in their forest camp. Walter was charged with double murder, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Over the following 15 months, accumulating evidence suggested that Walter Kohn could not have committed the crime.

With the outbreak of the Chaco war between Bolivia and Paraguay, in September 1932, the State freed Walter from prison and put him -- with the rank of captain -- in charge of the Bolivian tank corps. Overconfident and fearless, Walter engaged in death-defying actions. He fell in battle in December 1932. He was buried with full military honors and proclaimed as a national hero. There are several streets and monuments in Bolivia dedicated to his memory, but he was never fully rehabilitated from his conviction.

In memory of Kurt Philip Tauber 1922-2024

Dr. Kurt Tauber, grandson of the sitter and contributor to this catalog raisonné, died on 25.1.2024 at the age of 101. His personality, friendliness, wit and his continued alert political and cultural spirit are a lasting memorial to this extraordinary humanist.



APH, catalog raisonné JQA 1995, p. 82, cat.#51, ill.#36.


The Sitter,
and her family descendants.
Private collection USA.