Selma Kurz 1909

Full-length portrait, with slightly tilted head looking at the viewer, standing at a piano, her left hand on its keys, the right hand behind her back, in an apartment interior (blue-gold upholstered rococo armchair, marble fireplace with decorative objects, pictures, carpet). The portrayed wears a black floor-length dress with black translucent sleeves, the deep neckline backed with blue fabric and wide white lace.

JQAW# P_1909_020
Oil on canvas 203 x 180 cm
Signature: John Quincy Ɑdams
Theatermuseum Wien BT O 4712

Image: KHM-Museumsverbund Theatermuseum Wien

Selma Kurz, 15.10.1874 Bielitz (Bielsko-Biała, PL) to 10.5.1933 Vienna. Celebrated mezzo and coloratura soprano of the Vienna Court and State Opera (active there 1899 to 1927).
Engaged and promoted by Gustav Mahler, she developed a stupendous technique combined with the ability to convince in both lyric and dramatic roles. Her leading roles in Vienna included Mimi in Puccini's Bohème, Mignon (Ambroise), Leonore and Violetta in Verdi's Trovatore and Traviata and many others (see repertory archive of the Vienna State Opera). Famous for her almost endless "short trills" ( example of the lure from Goldmark's Queen of Sheba 1925); fans stopped the duration of her trills, which lasted up to 30 seconds without taking a breath, during the performances.
Successful guest appearances in many European countries (including with Enrico Caruso in London), teaching lessons, and early recordings made her one of the most successful singers of her time. Roman Sandgruber lists her (as well as Leo Slezak) among the 500 richest of the (numerous) Viennese and (rather less numerous) Viennese women (measured by taxed income) for 1910. After brief relationships with Gustav Mahler and Nathaniel Rothschild (see the latter's portrait photo), she married the gynecologist Josef Ritter von Halban in 1910 (the couple had two children) and lived and taught in her prestigious apartment in Vienna Löwelstraße 8, furnished by Adolf Loos, where her Adam's portrait also hung. Diagnosed with cancer in 1929, Selma Kurz died in 1933, the same year as John Quincy Adams and Adolf Loos. (Adams may have socialized with many opera singers like Selma Kurz and other artists as well, as their joint signatures on an album page circa 1925 reveal.
Selma Kurz is buried in an honorary grave of the City of Vienna artistically decorated with a Fritz Wotruba sculpture ("die Liegende"), a work of art that originally caused criticism in prudish circles, but which to this day, like the Adams portrait, keeps alive the memory of this great artist.

The portrait of Selma Kurz from 1909 is representative of the beginning of Adam's career as a painter of Viennese society. His breakthrough came in 1908 with a portrait of the art patron Prince Johann II of Liechtenstein (1840-1929, see cross-references) commissioned by the city of Vienna. The portrait was executed for the conservative taste of Viennese society. His portrait of the opera diva Thea Drill Oridge (see cross-references), created as early as 1907 and probably painted in Paris, is by contrast much more groundbreaking. An interesting insight into the creative process is provided by the portrait photograph of Madame d'Ora (Dora Kalmus) from 1909, where Adams is shown in front of the still unfinished portrait of Selma Kurz. The portrait hung for many years as a permanent loan in the Vienna State Opera where it delighted art lovers of the visual and performing arts. Unfortunately, like all of Adams' major works, it is now hidden from view in the repositories of Viennese museums and (with the notable exception of the Belvedere) has not been published digitally, a shortcoming that this catalog attempts to address.


1909 Künstlerhaus Vienna (EL 53 1909/10 no. 1517)

1986 Academy Schillerplatz Vienna, Vienna Society in Portrait, catalog no. 17.


Schaffer/Eisenburger 1986, exhibition catalog #17 (no ill.).

APH, catalog raisonné JQA 1995, p. 95, cat.#64, fig.#46.

Roman Sandgruber - Traumzeit für Millionäre, die 929 reichsten Wienerinnen und Wiener im Jahre 1910, Styria, Wien, 2013, 495 pp.


Her family descendants, private collection Munich, permanent loan to Vienna State Opera.
2002 Vienna Theater Museum BT O 4712.