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"Maria Lani" by Jules Pascin, Charcoal on paper, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Maria Lani (Maria Jeleniewicz; 24 June 1895 – 1954) was an aspiring film actress and artists' model. In the late 1920s she was portrayed in paintings and sculpture by over fifty artists, including Bonnard, Chagall, Cocteau, Derain, Matisse, Rouault,[1] and Suzanne Valadon.


Maria Lani was born in Kolno, Poland and grew up in Częstochowa also in Poland.[1] She went to Paris in the Spring of 1928 and proclaimed herself to be a silent film star who had worked in Berlin. Together with her husband, Maximilian Abramowicz, and her brother, Alexander, the trio claimed to be working on a film which required multiple portraits as part of the plot. She befriended Jean Cocteau who enthusiastically endorsed the project and with his encouragement, fifty-nine artists made portraits of her.[1]

A limited edition book about Lani and the portraits was published in 1929 by Éditions des Quatre Chemins, Paris with essays by Cocteau, Mac Ramo, and Waldemar George. It included fifty-one plates of reproductions.

The film never materialized, but the portraits were exhibited as a group in Europe and the United States, and Lani and Abramowicz kept them in their possession.[1] In 1941 they moved to New York City, where she worked at the Stage Door Canteen, a recreational center for servicemen. They returned to Paris after the war where she died in 1954 and was buried in a pauper's grave.[1]


  • In the late 1930s, Thomas Mann coauthored a screen play that was inspired by Lani. "Jean Renoir agreed to direct, with Garbo to star."[1]
  • The 3 December 1945 issue of Life Magazine reproduced fifteen of the portraits.[2]
  • Lani was an inspiration for fashion designer John Galliano's spring/summer collection in 2011 and he referenced the portraits in the outfits of the models.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lackman 2014
  2. ^ These Are the Faces of Parisian Model Maria Lani. Life Magazine. 3 December 1945. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  3. ^ "John Galliano". Vogue Magazine UK. Retrieved 14 June 2014.
  • Lackman, Jon (June–July 2014). "Maria Lani's Mystery". Art in America. New York: Brant Publications: 49–52.

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