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NICA DE KOENIGSWARTER: A WOMAN WITH A PASSION

By Alan Behr

NEW YORK, 16 NOVEMBER 2008 - Baroness Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter was a woman with a passion for jazz musicians and cats. She let jazz musicians play their music and crash with her at each of the New York hotels where she lived until the noise (not to mention the death of Charlie Parker, on the sofa in her suite at the Stanhope), got her thrown out. She finally settled into an apartment, which Thelonius Monk nicknamed the Cathouse for the 100+ cats she kept there ["cats" was jazz slang for "guys" or musicians]. At the time, racial discrimination and economic exploitation made the life of a musician very difficult when it came to making a living and finding accommodation.

In the late 1960s, she snapped Polaroids of the musicians and a few of the cats, collected into a book first published in France as Les musicians de jazz et leurs trois voeux. A selection is now on display at the gallery at the Hermès store in New York City - along with, to be sure, a couple of the baroness's Hermès notebooks, which have become historical documents.


Thelonius Monk and "Nica" de Koenigswarter
Photo courtesy of the Koenigswarter family

Pannonica de Koenigswarter, born Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Rothschild, was born in London in 1913. In the early 1930s she studied Art History in Venice, Vienna and Munich. According to Nadine de Koenigswarter, Pannonica was an avid traveller who photographed the indigenous peoples of China, Sulawesi and Papua, New Guinea in 1935-36, and those of the Congo and Ghana in 1940-42 when she and her husband were members of the Free French Forces. She moved to New York in the early 1950s, embracing her passion for jazz and becoming a friend, patron and muse of all the top names, who dedicated some twenty compositions to her.


Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk and Al Timothy at the Bolivar Hotel in New York in 1956
Photo courtesy of the Koenigswarter family

The feelings communicated by music do not easily lend themselves to recreation in the visual arts, but these snapshots were never intended as fine-art photographs; they are private documents of people at rest and at work -which, for a true jazz musician, is the same as play. You might not feel the music, but you feel the respect and the love the photographer had for her subjects. "Nica" de Koenigswarter died in New York in 1988.

Pannonica de Koenigswater: Jazz musicians and their three wishes
Through 29 November 2008
Gallery at Hermès
691 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10021
Tel: (1) 212 835 64 69

Alan Behr is a partner at Alston & Bird LLP, where he practices intellectual-property law. He has exhibited his photography at Leica Gallery in New York and last wrote on The Art of Barack Obama for Culturekiosque.com

All images copyright © Pannonica de Koenigswarter
Used with permission.

BOOK TIP

Les Musiciens de jazz et leur trois voeux
de Pannonica de Koenigswarter

Nadine de Koenigswarter (Préface)
302 pages (Relié)
Publisher: Buchet-Chastel (Paris, décembre 2006)
Collection: Documents
Language: French
ISBN-10: 2283020387
ISBN-13: 978-2283020388
EUR 33,25

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