The name Veruschka von Lehndorff may not mean anything to you just yet, but if you have any interest at all in body painting, it should. Veruschka von Lehndorff is a German artist, model and part-time actress who rose to prominence in the ’60s. Veruschka turned heads, made headlines, and appeared on hundreds of magazine covers, including 11 Vogue covers, for not only her striking beauty and statuesque six foot, three-inch build but also for her avant-garde sense of style. It was a combination of these three things that led to Veruschka becoming a major icon of the art of body painting.
A hard past
Veruschka wasn’t always as glamorous as she sounds. In fact, her name wasn’t even Veruschka. Born Countess Vera von Lehndorff, Veruschka came of age in WWII Germany as the daughter of a resistance fighter who hatched a plot to blow up Hitler. It obviously failed. Her father escaped custody and committed suicide in the woods when Veruschka was just five years old. The rest of Veruschka’s family spent nearly six months in labor camps and were homeless by the end of the war.
As unbelievable as it may seem now, Veruschka was a tall, gangly teenager soundly mocked by her peers for her looks. She attended 13 different schools, never quite feeling as though she fit in anywhere. She didn’t turn to modeling naturally, instead opting to pursue art in Hamburg and then Florence. She was discovered at the age of 20 by photographer Ugo Malas. Vera became Veruschka, she traded in her German upbringing for a fictionalized Russian background, and a ground-breaking career was set in motion.
Body painting stardom
Veruschka’s first foray into the art of body painting came in 1966. She was quickly hooked, turning body painting into one of her lifelong artistic pursuits. Not content to just be the model, Verusckha did much of her own make-up, body painting and styling. She even traveled to Kenya with famed surrealist artist Salvardor Dali. There she painted herself with shoe polish to blend in with plants and native animals. It took Veruschka weeks to remove the shoe polish from her skin.
Stepping away from the modeling world
Veruschka fell into a heavy depression in 1974. After butting heads with Grace Mirabella, the new editor of Vogue at the time, Veruschka left modeling altogether in 1975. In 1985 Veruschka came storming back into the public eye with the one passion she had never stopped pursuing: body painting. She and photographer Holger Trulzsch put on a major body painting show in Tribeca, transforming Veruschka into everything from wild animals to movie stars, gangsters and dirty old men through the use of body paint.
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