Helene Odilon as Dubarry 1903

For picture description see below.

JQAW# P_1903_040
Oil on canvas 150 x 120 cm
Signature: JQ (intertwined) Ɑdams
Wien Museum Inv.Nr. 50.061
Picture: private photograph of condition during restauration Privataufnahme in 2023

3/4 Full-length portrait in profile view, looking to the left, her right hand raised, holding a ceremonial staff; in her left hand a bouquet of roses. Her theatrical costume consists of a white undergarment decorated with lace and pompons at the neckline, over it a turquoise velvet coat trimmed with pink silk and brown fur and designed with alternating white lace and turquoise velvet stripes at the sleeves. Background: a gray wall with light reflections textured by white brushstrokes. Left above, a noble coat of arms: two shields framed by a cartouche, above which is a crown in which a mural crown open to the front is visible, in there a black dog with a red tongue and feather on its head. To the left and right of the cartouche also two black dogs with golden collar and red tongue are shown.

Helene Odilon (stage name), née Petermann 31.7.1865 Dresden to 9.2.1939 Baden near Vienna, scandal-ridden actress with a tragic end.

Helene Petermann, who took the stage name Helene Odilon (see her biography in OeBL), was born in 1865 in Dresen in modest circumstances. After acting lessons in Dresden, she had her first roles in theaters in Chemnitz (stage debut in 1881), Gera, and Lübeck, then in Hamburg and Berlin (Court Theater, dismissed there because of her private life). 1891 debut at the Vienna Volkstheater. Her acting performances, but also her scandals, made her a true "star" in theater-loving Vienna. Successful guest performances also took her to Berlin, London (1899) and the USA (1901, 1902). Her parade roles were Dubarry (Dubarry by D. Belasco, in which role and theater costume she is also faithfully portrayed in the portrait, see cross-references), Madame Sans-Gêne (the role of the Duchess in V. Sardou's Madame Sans-Gêne), and Lona Ladinser (in Der Star by Hermann Bahr), among others. However, she also excelled in the classical field in plays by Lessing (Minna Barnhelm), Ibsen (Nora), or Schiller (Kabale und Liebe). At the end of 1903 she suffered a stroke that put an end to her stage career and began a long descent into illness and poverty.

Helene Odilon who was known for numerous, often scandalous, love affairs, was characterized by Bertha Zuckerkandl as a "sexual miracle," and was married three times: history has recorded the cabals and jealousy dramas that marked her first marriage (1893-1897) to the popular actor Alexander Girardi (1850-1918). The Odilon had several affairs during her marriage with Girardi (including a "bicycle love affair" with Albert Rothschild; see Roman Sandgruber, Rothschild, 2018, pp. 296-300 and cross-references) and sought to have the jealous Girardi forcibly put into a mental institution by means of a long-distance expertise by the psychiatrist Julius Wagner-Jauregg (1857-1940). Girardi narrowly escaped by jumping out of a window and sought shelter with his colleague Katharina Schratt (1853-1940), who personally rescued Girardi from this situation by intervening with the emperor. A psychiatric reform was the consequence, after which admissions to a mental institution could only take place after a court order and a formal procedure. In her second marriage (1900-1907) Helene Odilon was married to Franz von Rakovsky (ca.1877-1907), whose coat of arms is depicted in Adam's portrait. Widowed, she married the pharmacist Bela von Pecic (?-?); this marriage (1907-1912) did not last long either.

After her stroke, Helene Odilon sank into depression, which was used by her relatives to place her under guardianship. Helene Odilon countered with the publication of her memoirs, which appeared in 1909 under the title "The Book of an Imbecile, Memoirs of Her Life." Her precious home furnishings (financed by Albert Rothschild in 1897) were auctioned off at the Dorotheum in 1914, and in 1916 Helene Odilon went blind and thereafter sank into complete poverty, living in asylums for the poor in Salzburg and Dresden. After an appeal by the literary figure Hermann Bahr in 1920, which referred to her tragic fate (she is described in Neue Freie Presse 2.8.1925 p.11 as "bitterly destitute, brooding, paralyzed, deprived of the full use of speech and of one hand") Helene Odilon was finally granted various (modest) honorary pensions and she herself was admitted in 1928 to the artist retirement home "Sorgenfrei" in Baden near Vienna, where she died of a stroke in 1939. She is buried at Vienna's Central Cemetery in a grave of honor (Group 12 D, Row 1, No. 23).

The portrait of Helene Odilon was exhibited by Adams in 1903 in the Vienna Künstlerhaus (EL 46 1903 #1700) and caused a sensation. Even Emperor Franz Josef commented favorably on the picture and had the artist introduced to him (Sport & Salon 38.3.1903 p.23). Probably because of the great success Adams made a copy (see its own "duplicate" catalog entry), which he again exhibited in Künstlerhaus (EL 47 1903/04 #563). (The duplicate is identical to the first version, but Adams added the year 1903 to the signature, see the signature comparison). The original version was delivered on 15.6.1903 to a Mr. Plesch Vienna Neustiftgasse 13, but he was probably only messenger/agent (since not registered at the given address). By a recent chance find of a photo, the owner of the Odilon portrait could be determined as the solo dancer of the Court Opera Gisela Schreitter (1870-1949) (see cross-references), who probably gave the picture to the auction in 1920 because of economic difficulties. After several auctions, the painting came up for auction again in 1930 at the Dorotheum Vienna and came into the possession of the Wienmuseum, where it has been kept since then under Inv.No. 50.061. Unfortunately, the painting suffered severe damage in an earlier depot of the museum (which is why it could not be shown in the 1986 Adams exhibition), but is currently (2023) in the studios of the Institute for Conservation and Restoration of the University of Applied Arts Vienna for examination and restoration.


1903 Künstlerhaus Vienna (EL 46 1903 #1700)



1903 Künstlerhaus Vienna Exhibition (EL 46 1903 #1700, listed as private collection insurance value 3000 Kr).
1903-1920 Ms Schreitter solo dancer court opera (likely: Gisela Schreitter 1870-1949, Wien VI, Mariahilferstraße 31), Vienna.
1920 auction Schidlof Vienna 11.10.1920 Lot 3 (25,000 Kr).
1924 auction Schidlof Vienna 31.3.1924 Lot 11 (2,000,000 Kr).
1930 auction Dorotheum Vienna 13.3.1930 Lot 96 (1200 Schilling).
Since 1930 Wienmuseum Vienna HMW_050061.