Ursula Wolff Schneider

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Ursula Flora Schneider (Wolff)

Birthdate: (70)
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Death: August 04, 1977 (70)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States (Automobile accident)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Fritz Georg "Joseph" Wolff and Minna Pfeffer
Wife of Karl Rudolf Schneider
Sister of Dr. Emanuel Wolff; Sabine Eva Wolff and Walter Gustav Wolff

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Ursula Wolff Schneider

Ursula Wolff was born in Berlin, Germany on August 14, 1906, the daughter of renowned Sanskrit scholar Dr. Fritz Wolff. When Ursula was twelve, her family moved to the university town of Giessen. She completed her schooling at the age of 17, and her parents placed her in the home of Leopold Sachse, the artistic director of the Hamburg (Germany) Opera. In Sachse’s house Ursula Wolff received room and board in return for performing household chores. This arrangement also gave her the opportunity to meet many of the leading musicians and artists of the time, including Richard Strauss.

In the mid-to-late 1920s, Ursula Wolff spent two years in Berlin, Vienna, and Hamburg working as an apprentice in photographers’ studios and honing her talents. In 1928 - at the age of 22 - she established her own studio, Foto Wolff Lichtbildwerkstatt, and began working as a free-lance photographer. Ursula Wolff specialized in photographing children, works of art, and architecture. In fact, her studies of the Bauhaus style won her important recognition among many of Germany’s premier architects, including Karl Schneider, the man whom she subsequently married. Yet despite her success in these endeavors, she was particularly interested in photo-journalism - a medium that was just beginning to emerge in Weimar Germany. The work she did for publications such as Hamburger Illustrierte, Die Zeit im Bild, and Hamburger Fremdenblatt, is directly linked to the evolution of thematic photo-story made popular by the United States’ Life magazine, France’s Paris-Match and England’s Picture Post.

During her early years, Schneider’s photo-journalism assignments were numerous and varied, but - in the words of one reviewer - her typical theme revolved around “the common people in their daily lives and struggles.” For example, she photographed Hamburg’s school children, various festivals, contemporary fashions, the lives of Hamburg’s working class (chimney sweeps, firefighters, stevedores, butchers, bakers, carpenters, postmen, streetcar drivers, etc…), weekends vacationing on the Baltic Sea, life along the docks of Copenhagen, and travels through Southern France. In the early 1930s she spent several months in Greece working with the art historian Richard Tuengel, where she photographed ancient sculpture and architecture. The images she produced for Tuengel are considered classics of their kind and are held in the permanent collections of some of the world’s finest museums and have appeared in numerous textbooks.

Schneider emigrated to the United States with her husband in 1937, due to pressures placed upon artists by Hitler and the National Socialists. The couple settled in Chicago, Illinois - close to Ursula’s brother, Dr. Emanuel Wolff.She initially found work as a medical photographer at the Michael Reese Hospital, a job she did not particularly like. In 1942 the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago offered her a position as Chief Photographer, which she accepted and held until her partial retirement in 1973. During her years at the University of Chicago, her most important achievement was the preparation and layout of Erich Schmidt’s definitive three-volume opus Persepolis, a work that took thirteen years to complete. {See also Schneider’s Persepolis and Ancient Iran]

On August 4, 1977 Ursula Wolff Schneider was killed in an automobile accident. When looking through her personal effects, family members were surprised to find that Schneider left behind a well-organized collection of negatives, prints, proof sheets, slides, scrapbooks and manuscripts that documented virtually her entire career as a photographer.

Schneider’s work, although not well known, has been rediscovered since her death in 1977. Her photographs of the pre-World War II period are a significant record of the society and culture of Weimar Germany, and they serve as an important example of early photo-journalism. In the words of a reviewer for the Chicago Journal:

“Ursula Wolff Schneider photographed in the good, solid, early Bauhaus style. Her images are beautiful in their own right, and also invite us to compare her to other more familiar artists: David Seymour, Man Ray, Brassai, Cartier-Bresson, and others.”

About the Ursula Wolff Schneider collection

The Ursula Wolff Schneider collection consists of more than 7,000 negatives as well as hundreds of prints and proof sheets. The materials span the dates 1923 to 1976, and a substantial portion of it focuses on her early work in Germany (1928-1937). Subjects represented in the collection include: her work as a photo- journalist for German newspapers (1930s), studies of Greek art and architecture (1930s & 1960s), travels in Greece (1930s, 1966 & 1976), Guatemala (October 1961), Italy (1930 & 1936), Mexico (1946), the United States (1940s-1960s), and Yemen (1930-31) as well as her commercial portrait work in Germany and the United States.

This essentially photographic collection is further supplemented by manuscript materials that document Schneider’s life and work. The collection also contains scrapbooks, clippings from publications within which Schneider’s work appeared, exhibit catalogs, and biographical information.

One-Woman Exhibits:

Kunstverein, Hamburg, Germany, 1933

Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, 1938

Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 1941

Bergman Gallery, Chicago, 1977

Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 1978

Staatliche Landesbildstelle Hamburg, Hamburg, 1979

The Putnam Arts Council, NY State, 1981

Ingber Gallery, New York, 1983

Collections With Images by Ursula Wolff Schneider:

Deutsches Archeological Institut, Rome

Deutsches Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florenz

Kunsthistorisches Institut, Marburg, Germany

Altes Museum, Berlin

National Gallerie, Berlin

Kronprinzenpalais, Berlin

Bibliothek Warburg, Hamburg, Germany

Warburg Institute, London

British Museum, London

University of London

Metropolitan Museum, New York

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA

Harvard University Museum, Cambridge, MA

Columbia University, NY, NY

University of Illinois

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Ursula Wolff Schneider's Timeline

August 14, 1906
Berlin, Germany
August 4, 1977
Age 70
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States