Lucia Moholy. Photographer, art critic and reviewer for The Burlington Magazine (1962-1979)

Photographer Lucia Moholy was born Lucia Schulz on 18 January 1894 in Prague, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Moholy’s background and first career was as art historian and writer: she studied philosophy, philology and art history, and she worked as an editor and lecturer in Prague. In 1920 she met the Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy in Berlin, where she had moved in 1918, and they married in January 1921.

Moholy studied photography in Leipzig from 1923 to 1924. When her husband secured a position as master at the Bauhaus, they lived in Weimar and Dessau and both produced many of the iconic images and portraits associated with that school. In 1928 the Moholy-Nagys moved to Berlin where she worked at the Johannes Itten’s school as a stage photographer and lecturer. They separated in 1932.

In 1933, when the National Socialist Party rose to power in Germany Lucia and László both emigrated, separately, to London. In London, Moholy continued to photograph: 45 of her portraits are preserved the London National Portrait Gallery. They are arresting, works, which show the perfect command Moholy had of the photographic medium and her ability to experiment with tonal contrast and composition to create works that are at the same time formally accomplished and psychologically compelling; see for instance the portrait of writer Margaret Emma Alice Asquith (née Tennant), second wife of Liberal UK Prime Minister Herbert H. Asquith (reproduced here). They also witness the intellectual richness of her circle of sitters, a combination of progressive émigrés from the Nazi German area, British literary figures, and left-wing thinkers; such as peace activist Ruth Fry (sister of Roger Fry), writers Edward Garnett, Margaret Leland Goldsmith and Elizabeth Trevelyan, and scientists Michel Polanyi, Patrick Blackett (illustrated here) and Federick Parkes Weber. Moholy’s sitters often do not look at the camera; they are either absorbed in their inner world or looking towards something. They do not smile, but they do not have a formal expression either. Her photographs witness intense thought and vision.

During the war Moholy worked as freelance lecturer and directed a microfilm/ reprography service based at the London Science Museum Library. In 1939 she published A Hundred Years of Photography, 1839-1939, a perceptive text, still quoted in anthologies of photographic writing, which also analyses the relationship between experiments in pictorial avant-garde and photography in the early 1900s . Immediately after the war Moholy travelled to the Near and Middle East working for UNESCO projects.

In 1959 Moholy moved to Switzerland. From there she began contributing for The Burlington Magazine in 1962, writing a round-up of art events in Switzerland that started as a regular monthly notice until 1964 and then continued sporadically up to 1977. Moholy wrote about 20th century art exhibited in Swiss and South German commercial galleries and public collections. She also penned occasional book and exhibition reviews. In those contributions Moholy shows the confidence of a long-life critic and an in-depth knowledge of influential Swiss galleries. For instance in her 1977 review of Nicolas de Staël at Zürich Galerie Nathan, she praised them for exhibiting works by modernist artists Maurice Esteve, Charles Lapique, Felix Valloton, Serge Poliakoff and others. Moholy’s voice was particularly eloquent when she wrote about artist she had known personally, such as El Lissitzky, whose Basle Kunsthalle exhibition she reviewed in 1966.

Recognised and influential in her own time, Moholy’s work was for many years neglected and only recently it has been the subject of renewed study, which has so far focused on her photographic work. Moholy’s activity as a lecturer and critic is still unexplored, and much of her writings in London are still undiscovered. Her writings for The Burlington Magazine show the same lucid analytical ability and intellectual curiosity conveyed by her photographs.

BP, May 2015

 

Illustrations:
Lucia Moholy, Margaret Emma Alice Asquith (née Tennant), London, National Portrait Gallery, bromide print, 1935
Lucia Moholy, Patrick Blackett, London, National Portrait Gallery, vintage bromide print, 1936

References:
Angela Madesani, Lucia Moholy 1894-1989 Between Photography & Life, Silvana Editoriale, 2013
Liz Heron, Val Williams (eds.), Illuminations: Women Writing on Photography from the 1850s to the Present, London, Tauris, 1996.

Sources:
Lucia Moholy, A Hundred Years of Photography, 1839-1939, London, Harmondsworth, 1939.

Lucia Moholy’s writings for The Burlington Magazine:

Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, September 1962, pp.404-405.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, October 1962, pp.445-447.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, November 1962, pp.513-514.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Munich, November 1962, pp.512-513.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, December 1962, pp.566-567.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Munich [Entartete Kunst], December 1962, pp.565-566.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland [Alberto Giacometti et al.], January 1963, pp.38-39.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, February 1963, pp.85-86.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, March 1963, pp.138-140
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, April 1963, pp.183-184.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, May 1963, pp.232-235.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, June 1963, pp.290-292
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, July 1963, pp.339-340.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, September 1963, pp.419-420+422.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, October 1963, pp.465-466.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, November 1963, pp.525.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Munich, December 1963, pp.580-582.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, January 1964, pp.48-50.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, February 1964, pp.91-92.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, March 1964, pp.142-143.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, May 1964, pp.245-246.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, June 1964, pp.292+297.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, September 1964, pp.422+435-436.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Munich [Französische Malerei von David bis Cezanne at Haus der Kunst], January 1965, pp.41-43.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: El Lissitzky, March 1966, pp.160-161+163.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Paul Klee in Basle, July 1967, pp.432-434
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, November 1971, pp.687+689.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, May 1970, pp.326+329-332.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Switzerland, January 1971, pp.58+60-61+63.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions:Switzerland [Mondrian at the Kunstmuseum, Bern], April 1972, pp.263+265-266.
Vordemberge – Gildewart: Mensch und Werk (Book Review), June 1973, p. 404.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Paul Klee at Berne and Basle, November 1973, pp.764-766.
Johannes Itten: Werke und Schriften (Book Review), March 1974, pp.166+169.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Photography in Switzerland, January 1975, pp.68-70.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Kunsthaus Zurich 1976, January 1976, pp.57-58.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Henry Moore on the Shores of Zürichsee, August 1976, pp.614+616.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Nicolas de Staël at Zurich Galerie Nathan, Zürich, January 1977, pp.63-66.
Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Zurich, July 1977, pp.527-529.
Moholy-Nagy Fotos und Fotogramm (Book Review), March 1979, pp.187-188.

 

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