Avedon, Richard. (1923–2004) [Dietrich, Marlene (1901-1992)]

Marlene Dietrich in Bedroom, 1948

Original silver gelatin photograph of the iconic singer and actress, as captured by the 25-year-old Richard Avedon for Harper's Bazaar, 1948 around the time of the filming of The Foreign Affair, and depicting the actress with her famous and very problematic African lenci doll. On the original photographer's mount, signed "Avedon" in black ink beneath the photograph and with the photographer's stamp to mount verso. A few areas of expert restoration and retouching, overall in very fine condition.  Print 10 7/16" x 11 7/16" ; mount 11 11/16" x 14 7/8". Framed to  26 x 19 inches (66.5 x 49 cm); 24 x 17 (61 x 43cm) overall. 

An extraordinary original early Avedon photograph with special provenance from the collection of Paul McMahon, a critic, photographer and artist who worked for more than 13 years touring with Marlene Dietrich as the icon’s stage manager, announcer, dresser, secretary and escort. 

"Scholars of the German film star have debated many of the contradictions in her screen roles and in her life. [Judith] Mayne singles out one that other scholars have apparently shirked confronting: "The particular contradiction that I find the most challenging in relationship to Dietrich is that this icon of sophistication and glamour was the proud owner of a black doll, which she called her 'mascot' and carried with her everywhere during her career."  The chief source of information about the doll is a memoir that Dietrich's daughter, Maria, published in 1992. Drawing from that memoir, Mayne describes the central role that the doll had in Dietrich's life:

"Marlene came home in a fury one day, desperately digging through trunks and accusing little Maria of having stolen her doll. Maria knew that her father, Rudolf Sieber, had been fixing the grass skirt of the doll; the father is thus identified as both maternal and as the devoted handmaiden to his wife's desires. Daughter Maria concluded that the doll was Dietrich's 'good-luck charm throughout her life - her professional one'."

Mayne reports that this was not the only doll Dietrich owned, and that this doll was not a strictly private object. "Indeed, attentive viewers might well recognise the doll from Dietrich's films as well as from publicity postcards of the actress, often in the company of yet another one of Dietrich's dolls, a so-called Chinese coolie doll, made by Lenci." Mayne concentrates her analytical powers on the black doll, dismissing the Chinese coolie doll as probably just "a companion" to the other, and paying the other dolls scarcely a mention.

The black doll appeared in at least four of Dietrich's films, including the one that made her famous, The Blue Angel. Mayne concentrates on that film. In so doing, she gives us her highly original - and, I must say, challenging - take on Dietrich, dolls, and fetishism:

"It is perhaps easy (too easy) to see the doll in The Blue Angel as a classic fetish ... Fetishism, understood now more as the ambivalence of the ironist than the dread of the phallocrat, is, if not celebrated, then at the very least explored as offering an understanding of multiple identifications and positions ... [But] the racial dynamics of Dietrich's relationship with her dolls foreclose any simple celebration of fetishism as necessarily subversive."  (Marc Abrahams, "Hello Dolly," published The Guardian, December 6, 2004)


Unsigned Photograph
Unsigned Photograph
Photographs & Portraiture
Film & Theater