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Jan 12, 2010

cultural figure: Alma Mahler-Werfel

Alma Mahler-Werfel (1879 – 1964) was a socialite from Vienna, who is widely known as a great femme fatale and the muse of famous artists at the time. Due to the privileged environment she grew up, Alma enjoyed the attention of great artists and became really involved in the artistic scene. She was a well educated woman, who took great interested in music and literature.

Alma - 19 years old

Alma in 1899

Apart from her beauty in her youth, Alma was also known for her free spirit and powerful character. A lot of her friends were artists and intellectuals, including the painter Gustav Klimt with whom it is said she had a short love affair.
It seems that Alma's figure and personality inspired some of Klimt's paintings as one his most common painting themes was that of the dominant woman, the femme fatale.

with Gustav Klimt in 1899

Danae, 1907

Alma had a series of flirtations, among them the theater director Max Burckhard and the composer Alexander von Zemlinsky. In 1902, she married Gustav Mahler, a famous composer of the Vienna Court Opera with whom she had two daughters.

Gustav Mahler with his two daughters

Her first daughter died at the age of five and Alma went into depression while experiencing emotional crisis. At that time, she started a relationship with the architect Walter Gropius (the founder of 'The Bauhaus school').

Walter Gropius

After Gustav Mahler discovered Alma's secret affair, he focused more on her desires and tried to help her with her musical compositions. In fact, Alma's secret affair was the reason Mahler went through a crisis - some of the manuscripts and notes of his 10th Symphony reveal the intensity of his feelings towards her.

After the death of Gustav Mahler, Alma started an intense relationship with the painter Oskar Kokoschka. He was obsessed and passionate about her and a lot of his work was inspired by her. His words on Alma after he first made her portrait, "How beautiful she was, how seductive behind her mourning veil! I was bewitched by her!"

Two Nudes (Lovers), 1913

It is said that Alma became pregnant by Kokoschka and then she had a miscarriage. Kokoschka could never overcome the pain of that loss.

Self-portrait with Doll, 1921

He was trying in vain to convience her to marry him. The violent passion they shared came to an end along with their relationship. Kokoschka continued to love her his entire life, "In my Bride of the Wind, we are united for eternity."

Bride of the Wind, 1913

After they were separated, Kokoschka asked Hermine Moos, an avant-garde dollmaker, to create a doll, a life-size replica of Alma as the substitute for the woman he always wanted in his life!

Alma resumed contact with Walter Gropius with whom she got married and they had a daughter. Gropius and Alma were in distance due to his military duties and Alma met and fell in love with the poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Soon, she had a son with him and after Gropius found out, they agreed to a divorce.

Alma with Franz Werfel

Alma got married to Werfel in 1929 and they later moved to the U.S., where Werfel achieved a huge popular success with his novel The Song of Bernadette. They settled in California, where they stayed till Werfel's death of a heart attack in 1945.
In 1946, Alma moved to New York, where she remained a major cultural figure!

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