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Eveline von Maydell - Estonian German Silhouette Artist

Updated on October 10, 2013
Old newspaper cutout depicting Baroness von Maydell
Old newspaper cutout depicting Baroness von Maydell

Baroness von Maydell (until 1914 Frank) was born May 19th, 1890 in Tehran where her father, a German archaeologist was working as ambassador. Her mother Augustine von Brandt comes from Pärnumaa County, Estonia Kaelase estate.

In 1900 the family moved back to Pärnu in Estonia, then part of the Russian Empire. She studied arts in Riga (Latvia) from 1907 (or 1908) to 1912, her professor being G von Rosen and in St Petersburg under Russian painter Ivan Bilibin. After that she studied in Düsseldorf W. Spatz' arts academy. Later she specialized in paper cutting techniques in Breslau.

In 1914 Eveline Frank married the owner of Teenuse estate of Kullamaa (Läänemaa county in Estonia, the neighbouring county to Pärnumaa) Baron Guido Nikolai Georg von Maydell who was grandson of graphist, painter and sculptor Friedrich Ludwin von Maydell (1795-1846). The couple moved to Poland, Olkusz - near Katowice. From 1918 they lived in Germany and 1922 in the United States.

Most probably they moved because in 1918 the Estonian Republic was created and big parts of German nobles' estates were nationalised, as they lost substantial parts of their wealth and the connection to her childhood home got weaker, it might have motivated the couple to move around and find happiness and better life elsewhere. It is clear that in Estonia the public opinion of Germans was rather weak, as the creation of the Republic and confiscation of Germans' wealth would effectively be the last step of a 700-year feud when Germans had been the masters and even the owners (through serfdom) of Estonians.

She worked in New York American Museum of Natural History as an artist and later she was freelance artist in Chicago and Boston. During her stay in the United States she also lived in the White House with the Coolidges where the President Calvin Coolidge and her wife Grace both posed to her. She has also portrayed President Roosevelt and his family and other American public figures - E. Duse, W. Furtwängler, T. Mann, A. Pavlova.

Example of von Maydell's typic work in an atypic technique. Instead of being paper cut silhouette, this one is an ink painting. Depicted: Mrs Calvin Coolidge, 1924
Example of von Maydell's typic work in an atypic technique. Instead of being paper cut silhouette, this one is an ink painting. Depicted: Mrs Calvin Coolidge, 1924

Von Maydell returned to Estonia in 1934 after her husband's death. Her latest period in Estonia turned out to be very frugal. The most important work was portraying Estonian President Konstantin Päts in the garden of his home with the panorama of Tallinn in the background. She has been called 'The Artist to whom posed the Presidents'.

In 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Estonia she left the country. As many other German nobles and artists in particular, she left her work, some personal letters and postcards behind. There could be many reasons for that - one being that during wartime we can't move as freely and with all our belongings, therefore choices had to be made. Also, German artists often left big parts of their collections, if not all of it in Estonia because of the then still National Socialist Hitler's regime in Germany which would have often considered their work degenerate and it would have been destroyed. At that time the Soviets, although already strongly preferring Realism (Socialist Realism in particular) were still somewhat tolerant towards other genres of art and the ownership of those wasn't forbidden.

Nevertheless, in the beginning of 1940s the Soviet regime had confiscated v. Maydell's property and her artwork. Her works together with some personal effects were all stocked in the Soviet Archives where they were preserved until the 1970s.

The Soviets had decided to throw out and destroy tons of material deemed of low value. The German origin of those works, letters and postcards was not helpful either. Fortunately, small parts of her work were preserved by some archive workers who decided to hide them in their own homes instead of taking them to the lucal furnace. The existence of those hidden artifacts was largely forgotten until at least end of the 90s when some parts of that treasure started to re-appear.

To finish the story of Eveline v. Maydell, after 1940 she lived in Finland, then moved on to America (where in 1946-47 she designed the playbills of the New York Metropolitan Opera). From 1950 until her death in 1962 december 24th he lived in Sintra, near Lissabon in Portugal.

During her lifetime she has had exhibitons in Tallinn, Munich, USA, Lissabon and elsewhere. Bigger collections of her works are found in Carl Schirren Gesellschaft archive in Lüneberg and in Lissabon Museu National dos Cochel. In Estonia there is still a collection of her work (including one silhouette dating from 1914) in the Estonian National Archive, but also in the posession of her relatives and acquitances.

Her works are most known for her attention to detail, they are indeed more than simply shadows. When studying her work, we get a sense of nostalgy and craving for an era of the past. Her favourite subjects are animals, but also her friends and their children. We also find lots of cuttings of fantasy settings - historic costumes, old-fashioned furniture.


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