Elsa Fraenkel was born Elsa Rothschild into a prosperous Jewish family in Bensheim, Germany in 1892 and trained at the Karlsruhe Academy. In 1918 she married and moved to Hanover, where she was a member of Kurt Schwitters' cultural circle in the 1920s (their friendship was later rekindled in exile in England). She remained in Hanover until 1933, travelling annually to Paris. She specialised in portrait sculpture, and although uncommissioned, her works were exhibited in Hanover, Berlin, Brunswick and Mannheim.
Following her divorce in 1933, she returned to Paris, before immigrating to London, bringing many of her sculptures with her and later establishing a studio in St John's Wood. During the war, her son worked in a factory that produced the Mosquito Fighter Bomber and she suffered difficulties after her identity was stolen by a German spy. Postwar, she exhibited in Ben Uri's 1951 Festival of Britain Anglo-Jewish Exhibition, but later moved to Bangalore, India, to be with her daughter and family, and died there in 1975.
Her work is in UK public collections including the Hove Museum, Brighton and Tate.