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Biographical Information

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" (or "the Unknown Woman of the Seine") was purpotedly a young woman who drowned in the Seine River in the late 1880s, and then a death mask was made of her visage. Because of her beauty, the young woman's death mask was reproduced and soon became a popular object found in Parisian bohemian homes of the early 1900s. "L'Inconnue de la Seine" supposedly inspired European artists and literary figures such as Albert Camus, Rainer Maria Rilke and Anaïs Nin, among others.

Wilhelm Nussbaum was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1896. He studied medicine in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin. He practiced as a gynecologist in Berlin and in 1933 founded an anthopological organization about the Jewish race, which was ultimately against Nazi racal theory. Though the organization at first had the approval of government authorities, it was closed down in 1935 by the Gestapo.

Following the closing of the organization, Nussbaum immigrated to the United States. He opened a private medical practice in Kew Gardens, Queens. Nussbaum's home on Long Island was frequented by other Jewish emigres from Germany, who were interested in literature. He was also active as a poet and painter. In 1953, he published a collection of poems called "Ueberfahrt". Some his paintings were shown in 1976 at the Metropolitan Museum as part of an exhibition on artwork by physicians. He died in 1985.

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Nussbaum, William: L'Inconnue de la Seine, Leo Baeck Institute Art and Objects Collection, 2018.30.

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Nussbaum, William

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