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Lene Schneider-Kainer

Art in the Footsteps of Marco Polo

Lene Schneider-Kainer portrait
Lene Schneider-Kainer, 1920s?, LBI Archives, AR 5180.

Lene Schneider-Kainer (born 1885 in Vienna, Austria, died 1971 in Bolivia) studied art in Vienna, Munich, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Schneider-Kainer made her solo debut as an artist in 1917 with an exhibition at the Galerie Gurlitt in Berlin.  Throughout the 1920s, she gained renown as a painter, illustrator, and fashion designer.   After divorcing her husband Ludwig in 1926, Schneider-Kainer received an assignment from the Berliner Tageblatt newspaper, to retrace the steps of Marco Polo throughout the Middle East and Asia.

From 1926-28, she and the poet Bernhard Kellermann traveled through Iran, Ladakh (Klein-Tibet), India, Thailand, Vietnam, and China as part of this assignment. Schneider-Kainer's role on the journey was to sketch, photograph, and write about her impressions and experiences; these contributions appeared regularly in Berliner Tageblatt (sadly, the photographs are largely lost).

Theater in Peking illustration
Article from the "Berliner Tageblatt" by Bernhard Kellermann, illustrated by Lene Schneider-Kainer, LBI Archives, AR 3180.

Due to the rise of the Nazis, she settled in Mallorca in 1932, and later in Ibiza. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Schneider-Kainer left for New York, where she then worked as a children’s book illustrator.  In 1954, she settled in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she assisted her son in establishing a textile factory.  She lived under the name Elena Eleska in Bolivia for the rest of her life and died in 1971.

The Leo Baeck Institute Art Collection has several hundred drawings, sketches, and watercolors by Lene Schneider-Kainer, many of which were done during her extensive travels. The Leo Baeck Institute Archives has a digitized collection of photographs, biographical notes, and a scrapbook album with newspaper clippings about Schneider-Kainer's travels and exhibition programs for her art. The LBI Archives also has a typewritten memoir of Schneider-Kainer's trip Marco Polo inspired trip 1926-1928; this memoir was also translated into English.