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Jean de Strelecki

Time Period: 
Newport R.I.; 135 W. 44th St, NYC; Pasadena


Born into a family of the Polish military aristocracy, Jean de Strelecki resided in Paris rather than the family seat of Poluwy in the years before World War I. A painter, sculptor, poet and camera artist, he became the chief photographer of celebrities for Reutlinger Studio, Paris, in the 1910s. During this period he studied painting with Leon Bakst, the revolutionary scenic designer for the Ballet Russe. De Strelecki took hundreds of photographs of the Ballet Russe during their historic forays to France. Among these dance images was Anna Pavlova's favorite image of herself, as the swan. Bakst introduced de Strelecki to Serge Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballet Russe, who convinced him to set himself up as an independent artist. With Baron Adolph de Meyer, de Strelecki supplied photographic publicity portraits for dancers for several productions, most famously for Sheherazade.

In 1915 de Strelecki crossed the Atlantic to avoid the disruptions of war, residing in Newport, Rhode Island. His colleague, Baron de Meyer, moved to New York City at the same time. De Strelecki's title and talent won him immediate entree to Newport Society. He supported himself doing debutant portraiture for two years. During this period, he became a friend of the sculptor-patroness Mrs. H. P. Whitney who included de Strelecki's photographs along with those of Genthe, de Meyer, and Stieglitz in her multi-media exhibition of portraiture in New York in the winter of 1917.

In 1918, de Strelecki married interior decorator Martha Bock. The couple moved to New York and de Strelecki began his involvement in theatrical and movie portraiture. In 1919 he returned to Europe, commissioned by the League of Nations to tour the Balkans as a goodwill ambassador repairing frayed feelings between peoples. He returned to the United States in 1925 as a courier for the Polish Embassy. He had secured European backing to make experimental educational films and rented a studio on W. 44th Street in Manhattan. The experiments were not greatly successful and de Strelecki found himself serving as a contract photographer for Photocraft Studio and the Norma Talmadge film company while writing news stories and travelogues for the European Central Syndicate.

Tiring of this work, he took up his paint brushes, abandoned the East for Reno, Nevada, in 1928, where he devoted himself to painting the desert landscape. He resided in Reno nearly two years before he took his stock of paintings to southern California. There he opened an art gallery with Joseph William Hull at the Vista del Arroyo Hotel in Pasadena. He returned to Nevada frequently to paint and consort with his extended family who settled there upon his recommendation. He regularly exhibited and sold his western canvases--particularly his impressionistic studies of Pyramid Lake--in Paris and Los Angeles. While in California he took private instruction with Hans Hoffman and resided at the Agura Art Colony.

De Strelecki did not resume photography until late in 1935 when a visit to the Old Spanish Mission at Santa Barbara inspired him to a series of studies of life behind the monastary walls. Shown at the Santa Barbara Public Library, this series was hailed in the press as an artistic and spiritual triumph. In 1940 he created a large public sculpture of a native American, Chief White Eagle, sited on Mt. Strella in Los Angeles County. He gave up his Polish title upon becoming an American citizen in 1932.

In 1943, de Strelecki moved to Miami Beach to restore old master paintings in the collection of Joseph T. Richter. He enjoyed the area, purchased a house, affiliated with the Washington Art Gallery and studied electronics when not painting. He died at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in May 1947.

NOTES: Bulletin of Photography 18 (1916), 352. "Sculpture in the Garden," Garden Magazine (1919), 50-53. Reno Gazette (Jan 30, 1936), 4. Reno Gazette (Apr 24, 1942), 7. Miami News (Feb 7, 1943; Sept 2. 1945). David S. Shields/ALS


De Strelecki favored portraiture over every other genre of photography, though he would do outdoor event photography if the remuneration was sufficiently great. He favored richly toned, deeply shaded photographs and often depicted his subjects standing, shot from a slightly declined angle to give them stature. His theatrical photography featured performers in moments of action or emotion. His Society portraiture, in contrast, often depicted persons in self-possessed repose.