Mary Duras, 1946, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Archive, Tate Archives, London
Mary Duras, 1946, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Archive, Tate Archives, London

In 1945 sculptor Mary Duras was working in the sculpture studio she had established in a converted barn at Small Dean Farm, the home of artist Augusta North, near Wendover. Born in Vienna in 1884, she had Czech nationality and became an established sculptor in Prague. She exhibited her work throughout Europe and was awarded a gold medal in Paris in 1937. Planning to hold an exhibition here, she arrived in March 1938, just as German troops marched into Czechoslovakia. As a member of the anti-Nazi group Prager Secession she successfully applied for refugee status in Britain and initially relied on support from the Czech Refugee Trust. Her Jewish husband, Arnold Schὕck, was deported to Auschwitz. He survived, but his health never fully recovered.

Mary initially settled in the émigré society of Hampstead but wanted a rural escape when the bombs started. She told a journalist that she chose her escape by spreading a map out and allowing her finger to fall at random. Her haphazard selection was Amersham, but she was unable to find accommodation in the overcrowded town and accepted the offer of a room at Wendover Dean. It is likely that her friend, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, moved to Amersham because of encouragement from Mary Duras.

During the war her work included busts of Marie-Louise, Winston Churchill and Jan Masaryk who was Foreign Minister of the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile based, for much of the war, in Wingrave, Aylesbury.  The bust of Jan Masaryk was given to the Czech Embassy by the current occupant of her studio near Wendover, where it was left when Mary returned to Prague.In 1942 Mary and Marie-Louise von Motesiczky took part in the Allied Artists Exhibition which toured Britain. Two years later, they held a joint exhibition at the Czechoslovak Institute.

After the war she returned to her husband in Prague. They escaped to Hamburg from the Czechoslovakian Government during the 1960s. After the death of her husband she lived in Graz until her death in 1982. She is best known for her sculpture Mother with Dead Child, erected in the concentration camp of Auschwitz.

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