Leopold Bosel ca. 1924

Half portrait en face, standing, head turned to the left, looking into the distance. The sitter with short black hair with a suggested middle parting as well as a twirled upper lip beard wears a black suit, white shirt with a patricide collar as well as a dark gray striped tie with a pearl tie pin. Over the suit he wears a black coat, which is open in the front and held back with his left hand, which is in his jacket pocket. Background designed as stylized landscape with low horizon and clouds in brown-gray tones.

Oil on canvas 65 x 54 or 80 x 66 cm
Signature: not documented
Unknown private collection USA
Image: composed of private photos, courtesy of Georg Ransmayr

Leopold Bosel 5.11.1886 Vienna to 1.1.1933 Vienna, lower middle-class travelling salesman and father of a "poor trillionaire".

The Jewish Bosel family immigrated from Bohemia to Vienna around 1850, where Leopold Bosel was born in 1886, the second oldest of 9 siblings. Like many hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the Bosel family lived in the hope of finding a better livelihood and the opportunity for economic and social advancement in the Empire’s capital Vienna. Only a few succeeded in a spectacular rise to wealth and social recognition, such as Adams' father-in-law, Moritz Sobotka, or (albeit less sustainably) Leopold's son Sigmund Bosel (see excursus the "poor trillionaire" below). Most immigrants lived in Vienna in proletarian or at best petty-bourgeois circumstances. As a teenager, Leopold met Julie Nossig (1868-1925), who lived in the same building and whose family had immigrated from Lemberg (Lviv, Ukraine). Leopold and Julie married on 18.10.1890 and had six children. As a sales representative, Leopold could only offer his large family a "petty bourgeois existence in Vienna Brigittenau in which the money was barely enough" (Ransmayr 2016, p.31). Self-representation by means of a painted portrait by the leading portraitist of Vienna was unthinkable and unaffordable.

It was not until the spectacular economic rise of his son Sigmund Bosel (see excursus below), who made it from humble beginnings to bank president and shareholder of hundreds of companies and was considered a crown trillionaire during the hyperinflationary period, that Leopold Bosel's life took a dramatic turn. Thanks to donations from his son, Leopold and Julie were able to move into middle-class apartments in Vienna IX, Grundelstrasse (now: Grundelgasse) 3 and in Vienna VIII, Krotenthallergasse 8, and on into posh villas in Vienna’s elite districts (XVIII, Colloredogasse 40, 1928-1930 and XIII, Hungerbergstrasse 13 in Grinzing, 1930-1932). In the Lehmann address book, Leopold was listed as a "private individual" and even (1928-1930) as a "banker. Regular spa stays in Bad Gleichenberg (before 1914, where the family already had themselves photographed as bourgeois upstarts -the sons all "cool" with cigarettes, see cross-references), Karlsbad (1918) as well as Bad Ischl (several stays in the 1920s until 1930, partly also with a personal chauffeur) were further aspects of the newly acquired upper middle-class lifestyle. The highlight of the representation is the portrait of Leopold, probably commissioned from Adams by his son Sigmund around 1923/24, which certainly cost a fortune (and was probably paid for in foreign currency such as Swiss francs during the hyperinflation period - for example, Adams resided in the noble Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich in 1927). In a 1936 tax case, Sigmund Bosel listed the financial contributions to his parents at a total of 264,000 shillings (Salzburger Volksblatt 12.2.1936, p.8), which corresponds to more than 1 million Euros in today's purchasing power. However, this new wealth also brought family tensions. In 1926, Leopold Bosel placed a statement in a number of daily newspapers (Neue Freie Presse, Neues Wiener Journal, Der Tag, issues 23.6.1926) that he would not pay any debts for his son Alfred Bosel and warned anyone to grant him money or material assets on credit. At the same time, incapacitation proceedings would be initiated against his son Alfred because of wastefulness (which, however, is not documented in any files, so probably never took place). Widowed in 1925, Leopold Bosel lived the life of a well-to-do private citizen until the end of his life, at last (1932-1933) in the upper middle-class apartment house in Vienna I, Wallnerstrasse 2. He died of a lung disease (bronchiectasis) on January 1, 1933 and was buried in a pompous neo-Gothic octagonal mausoleum at the Vienna Central Cemetery, which Sigmund Bosel had built in the period 1922-1925. (The often cited construction date of 1899 is a misunderstanding: Leopold's sons Alexander and Max, who were also buried in the mausoleum and who died in 1899 and 1904, were reburied there later. The first burial in the mausoleum was Leopold’s wife Julie Bosel in 1925.)

The portrait of Leopold Bosel is artistically conventional (only the consistent application of the Whistler tone-in-tone principle and the background refer to the typical Adams style of his late phase) but historically interesting. It is the only portrait, apart from his Dutch milieu studies, that Adams produced of a person outside the wealthy upper middle classes or aristocracy. The client, Sigmund Bosel, the son of the person portrayed, obviously wanted to portray his family as having "arrived" through the Adams portrait and displayed the portrait accordingly in his offices. This strategy of self-representation certainly worked, because the portrait was immediately reported in the press, where it was highlighted as a "portrait of President Bosel's father" among the illustrious company of other sitters from the high aristocracy (Hans Böhm, Die Bühne 1925 14:24-25). It is noteworthy that Sigmund Bosel only had his father portrayed by Adams; he himself was portrayed several times by Alexander Dobrinov (1898-1958) (all works lost), his mistress Gertrud Reinhardt by Julius Schmid (1854-1935), a charcoal drawing that has survived as a reproduction. (It is equally noteworthy that Sigmund Bosel did not have his partner and mother of his two children, Ilka Schulz portrayed.) In Vienna, Adams' portraits were considered a status symbol and a mark of social distinction (also due to the steep prices Adams could charge), which in the present case was deliberately used by Sigmund Bosel for the self-portrayal of his family. The painting remained with Sigmund Bosel until about 1938, after which it was probably kept by (Aryan) friends or faithful former employees, and after 1945 was given to Sigmund's daughter Julie Bosel-Bauer-Marks (1927-2016), who survived the Nazi period in exile in England and then moved to New York. Julie Marks died childless. The portrait passed by inheritance to the descendants of her uncle Robert Bossel (who alienated the name Bosel by adding the double-s to escape the Nazis by fleeing to the United States). The portrait's current location in the U.S. is unknown.

Excursus: Rise, fall and tragic end of the "poor trillionaire" Sigmund Bosel

Sigmund Bosel was born in Vienna on January 10, 1893, the son of Leopold and Julie (née Nossig) Bosel. After attending elementary and secondary school and one year of commercial school, he began working as a textile merchant in 1908 and set up his own textile business in February 1914. After the outbreak of the First World War, a large wave of refugees from the areas of the Eastern Front floods into Austria, who have to be accommodated and supplied in refugee camps. Thanks to his entrepreneurial skills (and probably also his shrewdness in "organizing" scarce goods), Sigmund Bosel soon became a major supplier to the authorities for supplying these refugee camps. He is also entrusted with supplying the Vienna police with increasingly scarce food and clothing, which he masters brilliantly, laying the foundation for his excellent relations with the police chief and later minister and federal chancellor Johann Schober (1874-1932). At the end of the war he already has a considerable fortune, which he increases enormously in the subsequent hyperinflationary period through shrewd (also daring) financial transactions under the motto "buy today - pay later") and becomes the epitome (just like Camillo Castiglione 1879-1957, see the Adams portrait of his wife Iphigenie from 1929, cf. cross-references) of the both admired and anti-Semitically ostracized financial speculator. In 1923, Sigmund Bosel takes over the majority of shares in the Union Bank (Camillo Castiglione is also involved in the takeover battle, but eventually comes to terms with Bosel and sells him his share package) and thus advances to become Bosel's (bank) president. A newspaper (Berliner Zeitung am Mittag 24.1.1923) refers to him as a (crown) trillionaire, which Bosel notes rather amusedly, but forwards the article for the purpose of propaganda (to Johann Schober, among others). In addition to the Union Bank, Sigmund Bosel also holds shares of numerous companies (over 200 participations) and also invests in realities, art and jewels.

However, as quickly as Bosel's star has risen in the financial sky, it also begins to sink. Foreign exchange speculation transactions (against the French Franc), which Bosel conducts through the Union Bank and also on behalf of the State Postal Savings Bank (which itself also illegally engaged in foreign exchange speculation against the Franc), lead to considerable losses. Bosel is caught in the crossfire of criticism from both the Socialists and the NSDAP (which would remember and "take care of" him after the Anschluss in 1938). Bosel's enormous losses, but also those of the Postal Savings Bank, which are even larger, become public and lead to a government crisis; Finance Minister Ahrens resigns and flees to Cuba. The Postal Savings Bank is reorganized with state funds, since "too big to fail. (Privatization of profits and socialization of losses are thus by no means inventions of the present). Bosel is forced to resign as president of the Union Bank in 1926, and in the following years is used as a scapegoat by the Postal Savings Bank in a series of lawsuits, some of which involve his imprisonment. Only rather meager remnants of his fortune remain (Bosel himself estimates it at around one million U.S. dollars, by today's money at least around $20 million), but his continuing good political connections open up a new activity for him: on behalf of the Rothschilds (and with their financial resources) he acts as a middleman for illegal party financing across the entire political spectrum (including the party press of the NSDAP). The 1931 crash of Austria's largest bank, Creditanstalt, which controlls 40% of domestic industry, in which the House of Rothschild loses considerably and relies on political goodwill to reorganize, assigns Bosel this new shady task. (The reorganization of Creditanstalt was again largely carried out with public funds, which by the mid-1930s had swallowed up a total of about 1 billion Austrian Schillings - about 50% of an annual state budget - and this at a time of mass unemployment in the wake of the Great Depression. The financial crises and the corruption of the political system eventually lead to the Civil War in 1934 and the elimination of democracy, as well as to the Anschluss in 1938, i.e. the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany).

In 1937 Bosel considers moving to Paris and starting all over again. At the beginning of 1938 he travels to Paris with his partner Ilka Schulz, but despite warnings he returns to Vienna in March 1938. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany on March 13, 1938, Sigmund Bosel is trapped. He is arrested by the GESTAPO and spends the time in prison and, after the outbreak of a serious illness, under supervision in the Rothschild Hospital and later in the Jewish old people's home. In February, Sigmund Bosel is taken by stretcher to a deportation train to Riga by Alois Brunner, a later convicted war criminal, and is tortured and then shot by Brunner on the train on February 7, 1942. Sigmund's sister Else, his brother Alfred as well as their daughter Marlene also fall victims to the Shoah.



Georg Ransmayr, Der arme Trillionär – Aufstieg und Untergang des Inflationskönigs Sigmund Bosel, Styria, 2016, 319 pp.


until after 1938 Sigmund Bosel (son), Vienna.
After 1945 to 2016 Julie Bauer-Marks, née Bosel (grand-daughter), New York.
Her legal heirs after her uncle
Robert Bossel, unknown private collection, USA.