Art & Design Magazine

Max Pollak: Portrait of Maria Ley

By Adventuresintheprinttrade
Max Pollak was born in Prague in 1886. He grew up in Vienna, where he studied printmaking under William Unger and Ferdinand Schmutzer. He won the Prix de Rome for his etchings in 1910. In WWI Pollak was an official war artist for the Austrian army. After spending three years in Paris, in 1927 Max Pollak emigrated to the United States, settling in San Francisco, where he lived for the rest of his life. He was a member of the California Society of Etchers (winning their award in 1942, 1944, and 1945) and of the Chicago Society of Etchers (winning their award in 1942). In his American years Pollak etched scenes in Mexico and Central America, as well as California. Brilliant and accomplished as these etchings are, it is generally thought that his work in Vienna and Paris is his finest, most particularly the sensuous portraits he etched of dancers such as Maria Ley, Kitty Starling, Ronny Johansson, and Isa Marsen. These are triumphant examples of movement captured in a still image, etched in Max Pollak's typical manner with the image mainly or completely incised with a drypoint needle and the colour hand-applied to the plate for each impression, à la poupée.
Max Pollak: Portrait of Maria LeyMax Pollak, Maria LeyDrypoint, 1924
Like Max Pollak, the subject of this drypoint Maria Ley emigrated to the United States, where she was known as Maria Ley-Piscator. Maria and her husband Erwin Piscator (a colleague and close friend of Bertolt Brecht) founded the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research. Among their pupils were Marlon Brando, Harry Belafonte, Walter Matthau, Tennessee Williams, and Tony Randall.

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