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TILLA DURIEUX – NOT ONLY CINEMA AND THEATRE

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Actress, director, political activist. While one of her most famous pictures is Franz von Stuck’s painting of her in the role of Circe, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting Tilla Durieux (1914) is dedicated precisely to her. Her algid face cannot be forgotten. Her courage in fighting for freedom contributed in its own way to making the world we live in a better place.

Circe’s face

Actress, director, political activist. In the course of her long and troubled life, Tilla Durieux, considered one of the most portrayed actresses of her time, did not simply limit herself to roles in theatre and film assigned to her each time. Yes, because, in fact, the famous Viennese artist, although initially moving abroad mainly for work reasons, was later, during the National Socialist dictatorship, practically unable to return to either Austria or Germany, taking advantage of this period of ‘exile’ to actively help numerous partisans and refugees, often hosting them at Villa Lubienski, in Zagreb, made available to her by her distant relative, Countess Zlata Lubienski. But who, in fact, was our Tilla Durieux?

Ottilie Godeffroy was born on August 18, 1880 in Vienna. Her father Richard, a chemistry professor, died in 1895, while her mother, the Hungarian pianist Adelheid Ottilie Augustine Hrdlicka, was initially against her daughter becoming an actress. Despite these objections, young Ottilie was determined to make her dreams come true and soon chose her stage name Tilla Durieux (inspired by the surname of her paternal grandmother, du Rieux).

Soon, therefore, the talent of our Tilla Durieux was recognised by important personalities from the theatre world, and the actress made her debut initially in Olomouc, before moving on to Wroclaw, Berlin and Vienna again. The most important theatres in Europe were therefore now her home, and from a very young age she had the opportunity to perform in works by Oscar Wilde, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Richard Dehmel and Adelbert von Chamisso, just to name a few.

Similarly, the film world soon began to take an interest in her. The first feature film Tilla Durieux took part in was Der Flug in die Sonne, directed by Stellan Rye in 1914. After starting her film career in Austria, however, the actress almost immediately moved abroad, working in films mainly in Germany and only interrupting her career during the war years. Among the feature films she took part in were, for example, Woman in the Moon (Fritz Lang, 1929), The Last Bridge (Helmut Käutner, 1954), The Story of Anastasia (Falk Harnack, 1956), Labyrinth (Rolf Thiele, 1959) and It (Ulrich Schamoni, 1966), devoting the last years of her career mainly to television films, before passing away at the age of ninety on February 21, 1971 in Berlin.

Married three times, Tilla Durieux saw some of her relationships end dramatically. Suffice it to say that her second husband, the art dealer Paul Cassirer (who is still buried next to her), committed suicide just before their divorce, as he was still very much in love with her, while her third husband, the businessman Ludwig Katzenellenbogen, with whom she tried to flee abroad during the dictatorship (but failed to obtain a visa for the USA), was arrested and deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

In those difficult years, however, many still remembered the beautiful face of the actress that some artists even wanted to depict in their paintings. And while one of the most famous pictures depicting her is Franz von Stuck’s painting of her in the role of Circe, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting Tilla Durieux (1914) is dedicated precisely to her. And even today, when we think back to that fascinating performer, it is precisely such paintings that come to mind. Her icy face cannot be forgotten. Her courage in fighting for freedom contributed in its own way to making the world we live in a better place.

Info: the page of Tilla Durieux on iMDb