Posts Tagged ‘Gerda Wegener


Exhibition: ‘TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950’ at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism

Exhibition dates: 7th October, 2022 – 21st May, 2023

Head Curator: Karolina Kühn
Curators: Juliane Bischoff, Angela Hermann, Sebastian Huber, Anna Straetmans, Ulla-Britta Vollhardt



'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' promo poster



Wer’e here, we’re queer, we’re not going anywhere.

Despite years of persecution, death and inequality, the presence of queer identity, diversity and creativity remains undimmed.

There are some fabulous, groundbreaking human beings who are “being seen” in this posting. Equally, there are some fabulous art works that illuminate the(ir) human condition.

Let’s celebrate their existence.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


About the exhibition

TO BE SEEN is an exhibition devoted to the stories of LGBTQI+ in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century. Through historical testimony and artistic positions from then and now, it traces queer lives and networks, the areas of freedom enjoyed by LGBTQI+, and the persecution they suffered.

The exhibition takes an intimate look at a variety of genders, bodies, and identities. It shows how queer life became ever more visible during the 1920s, giving rise to a more open treatment of role models and of desire. During this period, homosexual, trans, and non-binary people achieved their first successes in their fight for equal rights and social acceptance. They organised, fought for scientific and legal recognition of their gender identity, and carved out their own spaces.

But as recognition and visibility in art and culture, science, politics, and society increased, so did resistance. After the Nazis came to power, the LGBTQI+ subculture was largely destroyed. After 1945, their stories and fates were scarcely archived or remembered.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism website



“When a right is withheld from you, you must fight and not give in; that is a moral duty.”

Joseph Schedel opened the first meeting of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee of Munich on September 24, 1902



Exterior view of the NS Documentation Center in Munich showing a work in the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 – Maximiliane Baumgartner's '"You look at us – we look at you": Rubbing against the architecture of the executive gaze (Based on a paper by Anita Augspurg 'Mißgriffe der Polizei' / 'Abuses by the Police', 1902)' 2021


Exterior view of the NS Documentation Center in Munich showing a work in the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 – Maximiliane Baumgartner’s “You look at us – we look at you”: Rubbing against the architecture of the executive gaze (Based on a paper by Anita Augspurg ‘Mißgriffe der Polizei’ / ‘Abuses by the Police’, 1902) 2021
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München




TO BE SEEN | Trailer

The exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 is dedicated to the stories of LGBTIQ* in Germany in the first half of the 20th century from October 7th, 2022 to May 21st, 2023 at the Munich Documentation Center. With historical testimonies and artistic positions from then to the present, the exhibition traces queer life plans and networks, freedom and persecution.

The exhibition takes an intimate look at diverse genders, bodies and identities. It shows how queer life became more and more visible in the 1920s and how role models and desires were dealt with more openly. Homosexual, trans* and non-binary people achieved their first successes in their fight for equal rights and social acceptance: they organised themselves, fought for scientific and legal recognition of their gender identity and conquered their own spaces.

In addition to recognition and visibility in art and culture, science, politics and society, resistance also increased. After the National Socialists came to power, the LGBTIQ* subculture was largely destroyed. After 1945 their stories and fates were hardly archived or remembered.


Unknown photographer. 'Lili, Paris' 1926


Unknown photographer
Lili, Paris
From N. Hoyer (ed.). Man into Woman. An Authentic Record of a Change of Sex. The true story of the miraculous transformation of the Danish painter Einar Wegener (Andreas Sparre). London: Jarrolds, 1933, 1926, opp. p. 40.
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


Lili Elbe, a transgender woman who underwent sex reassignment surgery in Berlin in the 1930s.



Around 1900, queer people in Germany began gaining more and more visibility in public life – in art, culture, science, and politics. Existing role models for men and women were being questioned. Homosexual women and men as well as trans* and non-binary people achieved initial successes in their struggle for equal rights and acceptance: they organised and fought for scientific and legal recognition of their sexual and gender identity.

They met in public places, founded clubs and associations, and started magazines. New terms were coined to describe their identities and create a sense of belonging. Urning, lesbian, girlfriend, Bubi, homosexual: more than a hundred years ago there were already many expressions for what we call queer today. But as their visibility grew, so did the social and political backlash. The Nazi takeover in 1933 was a defining moment for queer people – their subculture was largely destroyed. In the postwar years, discrimination continued.

Even decades later, LGBTQI+ history is still hardly remembered or preserved in archives. Through historical testimonies and artistic positions from then and now, TO BE SEEN traces queer lives and networks, the spaces of freedom enjoyed by LGBTQI+ people, and the persecution they suffered.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Unknown photographer. 'Police photo of Liddy Bacroff' 1933


Unknown photographer
Police photo of Liddy Bacroff
Gelatin silver print
© Staatsarchiv Hamburg


Police photo of Liddy Bacroff, taken after an arrest, 1933. Barcoff described themself as a “homosexual transvestite”, lived from sex work, and was convicted several times. In 1943, they was murdered in the Mauthausen concentration camp.



Liddy Bacroff, a transgender woman initially from Ludwigshafen, who moved to Hamburg and lived for the majority of her life publicly presenting herself as a woman. She did not perceive herself to be a man (and, indeed, in papers she left after having been imprisoned, she determined what her name would be while also conspicuously referring to herself as “Liddy Bacroff, Transvestit”). But this was effectively her own form of self-ID. Certainly the authorities didn’t see her as such — her records remain filed under her deadname and identify her as a homosexual man – and, though she’d have been given a Transvestitenschein in Berlin, she wasn’t IN Berlin. Having not visited Hirschfeld and his Institut, it’s a marvel she uses the term “Transvestit”; elsewhere she does refer to herself as a “Mann-Weib” (a “male woman”), and frequently as a girl or a woman. The authorities, again, call her a man or, occasionally, a “Zwitter.” (NB. “Zwitter” means “hermaphrodite” and is here not meant literally but rather as an epithet recorded in the official files – an insult to her.) So the language that is used to describe trans people is inconsistent and, often, absent (depending on the sources). Reading between the lines is necessary, especially in the official records, which view trans women (regardless their lived circumstances or their appearance) only as homosexual men, and charge them as such. And while Hirschfeld was conscientious, the police were… not. This is especially true as the 1930s unfolded and the country Nazified. I wrote a very long thread a while back about “Heinrich Bode”, who was assigned male at birth but frequently presented as a woman. I used that thread to highlight difficulties of definition because Bode denounced their appearance as a woman in court filings and personal testimony, but at the same time also hinted that there was something much deeper than “just” dressing as a woman. But as they were subjected to prosecution by the Nazified judiciary and security state, they were under duress. So, do we assume that Bode was trans, and denied it because of the threat of punishment? Or was their presentation simply playing with the conventions of gender?

Dr. Bodie A. Ashton Historiker, Universität Erfurt. Text from his Twitter account


Unknown photographer. 'Police photo of Liddy Bacroff' 1933


Unknown photographer
Police photo of Liddy Bacroff
Gelatin silver print
© Staatsarchiv Hamburg


Unknown photographer. 'Police photo of Liddy Bacroff' 1933


Unknown photographer
Police photo of Liddy Bacroff
Gelatin silver print
© Staatsarchiv Hamburg


Alexander Sacharoff (Russian, 1886-1963) 'Pavane Fantastique' c. 1916/1917


Alexander Sacharoff (Russian, 1886-1963)
Pavane Fantastique
c. 1916/1917
© Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München


Unknown photographer. 'Alexander Sacharoff' c. 1914


Unknown photographer
Alexander Sacharoff
c. 1914
© Deutsches Theatermuseum München


The androgynous dancer created new body images and developed the swapping of clothes into a stage genre of its own.


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München




“Queer” originally referred to anything that did not fit into the usual categories. In English the word queer (meaning strange, other, suspicious), was used earlier as a derogative term for homosexuals. Since the 1990s, however, the term has been adopted by many non heterosexual and non-binary people as a positive self-designation. Within the exhibition, queer is used as a catch-all term for a variety of sexual and gender identities and practices that deviate from heterosexual ideas. The term primarily, but not only, refers to LGBTQI+ – in other words lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual persons. Furthermore, “queering” can be understood as a practice of combating various forms of discrimination and exclusion. Applied to gender, sexuality, and identity issues, it means casting a critical gaze at the worldview that regards a heterosexual relationship between two persons as the social norm. The rigid binary division of gender into man and woman and the associated role models are thrown into question. In the exhibition, historical self-designations are used where they can be traced through sources.


Self empowerment

In the German Empire, politics, the economy, and society were dominated by men. The gender order, which was maintained over centuries by state and church, was strictly divided into two parts: men and women were assigned clear roles within which they must operate. People who did not conform to these role models and lived gender and sexual identities outside the normative order were ostracised. They were considered immoral, criminal, or ill. According to Paragraph 175 of the Imperial Criminal Code of 1871, sexual acts between men were forbidden and punishable by imprisonment. In Austria, sex between women was also punishable.

But there were individuals who rebelled against the prevailing gender order and fought for a more open society. They opposed the outlawing of homosexuality and transsexuality, advocated a change in criminal law, and assertively engaged in the recognition of their identities. New alliances and self-images emerged. Many of these pioneers paid a high price for their rebellion: they lost their jobs, their families, and their friendships, and were socially isolated.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Emil Orlík (European born Prague, 1870-1932) 'Claire Waldoff' c. 1930


Emil Orlík (European born Prague, 1870-1932)
Claire Waldoff
c. 1930
© bpk | Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum



In TO BE SEEN #QueerLives we present individuals and movements who rebelled against the gender order that prevailed around 1900 and advocated a more open society. In their fight for equal rights and acceptance, they showed solidarity with each other, organised themselves in clubs, founded magazines, coined new terms and met in bars and clubs.

One of them was the chansonnière and cabaret artist Claire Waldoff (1884-1957). Born as Clara Wortmann in Gelsenkirchen, she is a central figure in the Berlin cultural scene of the 1920s. Her songs are known throughout Germany. She lives openly with her partner Olga (Olly) von Roeder and shapes the city’s lesbian scene.


Emil Orlik (21 July 1870 – 28 September 1932) was a painter, etcher and lithographer. He was born in Prague, which was at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and lived and worked in Prague, Austria and Germany.

Emil Orlik was born the son of a tailor on July 21, 1870, in Prague, then the capital of a province within the Austro-Hungarian empire. He first studied art at the private art school of Heinrich Knirr, where one of his fellow pupils was Paul Klee. Other friends at this time included Franz Kafka, Max Brod, and Rainer Maria Rilke.

Starting in 1891, Orlik studied at the Munich Academy under Wilhelm Lindenschmit. He later learned engraving from Johann Leonhard Raab and proceeded to experiment with various printmaking processes, including woodcut, which he and his friend, Bernard Pankok, experimented with in 1896.

Orlik left the Academy in 1893. He performed his military service for a year before returning to Prague in 1894. He relocated to Munich in 1896, where he worked for the magazine Jugend (Youth). He spent most of 1898 travelling through Europe, visiting the Netherlands, Great Britain, Belgium, and Paris.

Emil Orlik’s prints and techniques went through extensive changes as he traveled internationally, learning new methods wherever he went. Known for his portraits of a wide variety of well-known individuals including Josephine Baker, Albert Einstein, and Marc Chagall, Orlik was an artistic chameleon, never sticking to one genre or style but studying many. His prints catalog his travels, creating a kind of pictorial diary of the years 1892 to 1900 in particular. Many of his works, often produced in color, appeared in the European periodical PAN, along with the work of Toulouse-Lautrec, Kathe Kollwitz, and Max Klinger.

Japanese art and culture fascinated Orlik. He was aware of the impact Japanese art was having on European art and decided to visit Japan. In 1900, he traveled to Japan and spent a year studying Japanese woodblock cutting and printing. His studies of the Japanese culture led him to the art of Utamaro and Hiroshige. Orlik studied the language before his departure and within four months of his arrival he was proficient enough in Japanese to converse with the artisans whose work he admired and under whom he studied.

Orlik never limited himself to popular subject matter. He studied any scene that inspired him, major events or everyday life. He produced fourteen lithographs of the trial of Arthur Schnitzler and his fellow actors; reenactment of the banned play, “Aus dem Reigin,” for which Orlik was a defence witness. After the trial, Orlik began working for the theatre as a designer of costumes, stage sets, and posters.

He kept all his early woodblocks and, in 1920, he published his celebrated portfolio Kleine Holzschnitte (Small woodcuts) in an edition of 100, which also contained the text of his descriptions of each of the prints. The portfolio contained thirty-four woodcuts, eighteen of which were printed in colours. The complete portfolio is now very rarely found. It included such delightful items as Aus London and the superb colour woodcut Schneiderwerkstatt bei Orlik in Prag (the Orlik tailoring workshop in Prague), which depicts his father and colleague’s busy sewing.

Orlik was also commissioned to design colour posters for the Best-Litovsk Peace Conference at which Russia and Germany ended their conflict. He produced seventy-two lithographs, including a number portraits of Leon Trotsky. Around this time he also began to study photography, and by the mid-1920s was photographing celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich and Albert Eintstein.

Emil Orlik died of a heart attack on September 28, 1932. His brother Hugo was willed the estate, and with it the numerous works of art Orlik had collected throughout the years. Hugo Orlik and his family perished in WWII at the hands of the Nazis, and the only survivor was an aunt who regained what little was left of Emil’s effects. To this day Orlik’s work is still exhibited throughout the world.

Anonymous. “Emil Orlik Biography” on The Annex Galleries website Nd [Online] Cited 17/04/2023


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism

Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation views of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München


Unknown photographer. 'Trans* people in the Eldorado in Berlin' 1926


Unknown photographer
Trans* people in the Eldorado in Berlin
© bpk / Kunstbibliothek, SMB



Meeting, moving – forging bonds

Bars and clubs, magazines, organisations, private or public places: queer subcultures and networks emerged in Germany beginning at the turn of the century and especially in the 1920s. Political goals were formulated together. People communicated using their own codes, ciphers, and symbols.

The public sphere continued to be reserved primarily for men – heterosexual, white, and Christian men. But the experience of conquering one’s own spaces against all social opposition, of joining forces and stepping into the public sphere together, led to a growing self-confidence in the queer scenes. In the process, they not only fought for their own interests; political bonds were forged and coalitions formed that bridged differences.

Visions for a society with equal rights for all people were drafted, and existing structures of power were questioned. But internal conflicts emerged as well, and not all queer groups pulled together.


§ 175 des Reichsstrafgesetzbuchs

Trancript: “Paragraph 175: Perverse fornication committed between persons of the male sex or by persons with animals is punishable by imprisonment; loss of civil rights may also be imposed.”

According to Paragraph 175 of the Imperial Criminal Code, sexual intercourse between men was punishable. This provision originated in the Prussian Criminal Code and was introduced throughout Germany with the founding of the German Empire in 1871. Prior to this, homosexuality was exempt from punishment in some German states, such as Bavaria, Württemberg, and Baden, following the example of France. The paragraph was controversial from the beginning: ecclesiastical conservatives and extreme right-wing parties demanded it be made more severe; liberals, social democrats, and communists called for its abolition.


Organisations and the conquest of public space

At the end of the nineteenth century, gay men joined forces to fight against persecution based on Paragraph 175. They founded clubs and associations and sought supporters to achieve their vision of a more open society. Berlin became the hub of this movement and developed into a leading centre of attraction for queer people. It was in Berlin that, in 1897, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was founded, which aimed to achieve legal and social equality for homosexual and trans* people.

Some activists from the women’s movements joined this struggle, especially when the extension of Paragraph 175 to encompass women was debated in 1909. Their goal was far-reaching sexual and social reform: a woman’s right to sexual self-determination, abortion, extramarital relations, and independence from her husband. Some leading women’s rights activists lived with another woman, but only few openly identified as lesbian.

Queer subcultures flourished in the Weimar Republic. A diverse landscape of organisations emerged that represented the interests of gays, lesbians, and trans* persons. However, the struggle against Paragraph 175 was not always synonymous with advocacy for an open society. Among gay activists there were also those who paid homage to a homoerotic male cult. They excluded – in addition to women – all those who did not conform to their heroic, in some cases also racist ideas of masculinity.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Der Eigene (The Unique), 1925


Adolf Brand (publisher)
Der Eigene (The Unique)


Founded in 1896 by Adolf Brand, “Der Eigene” was the longest-running homosexual journal. With its literary-artistic contributions it evoked the image of heroic masculinity.



Struggle against Paragraph 175: the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

The physician Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) came from a liberal Jewish family and began actively campaigning for the abolition of Paragraph 175 at the end of the nineteenth century. His actions were motivated by the persecution to which gay men were subjected. As a sexual reformer and founder of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, he fought against the prevailing rigid sexual morality and contributed significantly to the visibility of queer people.

Magnus Hirschfeld utilised modern means in his educational activities. The silent film drama was shot in 1919 with his active participation. It is considered the first film to deal openly with Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others) the subject of homosexuality. Heavily attacked by conservative and right-wing extremists, and by some with anti-Semitic motives, the film was used as an opportunity to curtail the artistic freedom introduced after the 1918 revolution. After being screened publicly for a full year, the film was banned by censors in 1920 and almost all copies were destroyed.

“Anders als die Andern” is about a homosexual musician who is subject to blackmail. When he no longer knows what to do and files charges, not only is the blackmailer convicted, but he himself is also sentenced – for violating Paragraph 175. He is shattered by the verdict and takes his own life.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950



Excerpt from Different from the Others | © UCLA Film & Television Archive

Excerpts from Different From the Others (Anders als die Andern) (Germany, 1919), which was preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive as part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project. Funding provided by The Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation and the members of Outfest.



The concert violinist Paul Koerner takes a student under his wing, much to the worry of the boy’s parents. Koerner is meanwhile being blackmailed by a former lover, since in Germany any homosexual relations at that time were punishable under the law, codified in Article 175, which was not removed from the books until the 1960s. The German film, Different From the Others is, as far as we know, the first fiction feature film to address a specifically gay audience. Fortunately, even though more than 90% of all German silent films have disappeared, this film exists today in at least half its original length. When the film was first shown in 1919, gay and lesbian audiences must have been amazed that a mainstream fiction feature film would portray their situation as a fact of nature, rather than a perversion. Today, this film celebrates the brief opening of that door, before it slammed shut for another 50 years.

The film was produced and directed by Richard Oswald, at that time one of Germany’s most prolific independents, who made films cheaply and premiered them in a Berlin cinema he owned, where his wife would often handle the office box. Oswald had earned a fortune in 1917 / 1918 with a number of “educational” feature films about sexually transmitted diseases, which were approved by the censorship authorities, simply because syphilis was rampant in the trenches. Oswald would continue to produce controversial films, like his acknowledged masterpiece, The Captain from Koepenick (1931) based on Carl Zuckmayer’s anti-authoritarian play. The Nazis never forgave Oswald for Anders als die Andern or Koepenick, forcing Oswald into exile and eventually to Hollywood, where he directed several films and televisions shows. Although long under appreciated in Germany, recent critical reappraisals have valued his in-your-face aesthetic and modern subject matter.

Only a severely truncated version of the film has survived, with Ukrainian titles, as Gosfilmofond in Russia. It was restored previously to a semblance of the original 1919 release by the Munich Film Museum. The UCLA restoration is based on that Munich reconstruction, with some changes and additions made.



Richard-Oswald-Produktion. Screenwriters: Magnus Hirschfeld and Richard Oswald. Cinematographer: Max Fassbender. With: Conrad Veidt, Leo Connard, Ilse von Tasso-Lind, Alexandra Willegh, Ernst Pittschau, Fritz Schulz.



Different From Others: A Legacy Preserved (2012)

Featurette about the restoration of German silent film Different From Others (1919). Produced for the Outfest Legacy Project and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.



On October 6 the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer lives 1900-1950 opens at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism. TO BE SEEN is devoted to the stories of LGBTQI+ in Germany in the first half of the 20th century. Through historical testimony and artistic positions from then and now, it traces queer lives and networks, the areas of freedom enjoyed by LGBTQI+, and the persecution they suffered.

The exhibition takes an intimate look at a variety of genders, bodies, and identities. It shows how queer life became ever more visible during the 1920s, giving rise to a more open treatment of role models and of desire. During this period, homosexual, trans, and non-binary people achieved their first successes in their fight for equal rights and social acceptance. They organised, fought for scientific and legal recognition of their gender identity, and carved out their own spaces.

But as recognition and visibility in art and culture, science, politics, and society increased, so did resistance. After the Nazis came to power, the LGBTQI+ subculture was largely destroyed. After 1945, their stories and fates were scarcely archived or remembered.


Participating artists

Katharina Aigner, Maximiliane Baumgartner, Pauline Boudry & Renate Lorenz, Claude Cahun, Zackary Drucker & Marval Rex, Nicholas Grafia, Philipp Gufler, Richard Grune, Lena Rosa Händle, Hannah Höch, Paul Hoecker, Nina Jirsíková, Germaine Krull, Elisar von Kupffer, Zoltán Lesi & Ricardo Portilho, Herbert List, Heinz Loew, Jeanne Mammen, Michaela Melián, Henrik Olesen, Emil Orlik, Max Peiffer Watenphul, Jonathan Penca, Lil Picard, Karol Radziszewski, Alexander Sacharoff, Gertrude Sandmann, Christian Schad, Renée Sintenis, Mikołaj Sobczak, Wolfgang Tillmans and others.

TO BE SEEN will be accompanied by an extensive program of events and outreach on topics such as the persecution of LGBTQI+ persons under National Socialism, the queer history of Munich, intersectionality and drag, as well as queer identity in literature and film. All information and updates can be found at

The accompanying publication features a collection of texts and artworks from the exhibition as well as essays by key voices that shed light on past and present queer lives from an academic and social perspective. The book in German and English will be published in December 2022 by Hirmer Verlag. It features contributions by, among others, Gürsoy Doğtaş, Michaela Dudley, Sander L. Gilman, Dagmar Herzog, Ulrike Klöppel, Ben Miller, Cara Schweitzer, Sebastien Tremblay.

TO BE SEEN: Queer lives 1900-1950 takes place under the patronage of Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture and Media. The exhibition was funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

Director: Mirjam Zadoff
Head Curator: Karolina Kühn
Curators: Juliane Bischoff, Angela Hermann, Sebastian Huber, Anna Straetmans, Ulla-Britta Vollhardt
Project Management: Karolina Kühn, Anna Straetmans, Sebastian Huber

Press release from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Film still from 'The Mystery of Gender' Austria 1933


Film still from The Mystery of Gender
Austria 1933
© Filmarchiv Austria



In April 1933, the film “The Mystery of the Gender” ran in Viennese cinemas for about two weeks before it was banned. The film is a mixture of romance and medical educational film, including close-ups of the women’s genitals. Among the protagonists are – without mentioning their names – Toni Ebel, Charlotte Charlaque and Dora Richter. You can find an excerpt of the film in our storytelling

Toni Ebel converted to Judaism in early 1933, but reversed the conversion as the pressure of persecution increased. After 1945 she was recognised in the GDR as a victim of fascism. Ebel was able to start a new life as a painter.

Charlotte Charlaque and Toni Ebel remained in correspondence after their forced separation in 1942. In 1946 Charlaque told her friend about her loneliness, her arrival as a refugee in New York and the difficulties in getting her female name recognised.

Dora Richter became known as one of the first trans* women to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Since it was difficult for trans* people to find work, she took a job as a housemaid at the Institute for Sexology, which was looted by National Socialist groups in 1933. Nothing is known of Richter’s fate after 1933.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism showing at rear, an enlargement of an image by an unknown photographer of the Eldorado in the Motzstrasse (1932, below); and at left centre in the display cabinet, an image by an unknown photographer Trans* people in the Eldorado in Berlin (1926, above)
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München



The Eldorado on Lutherstraße was one of the city’s infamous cabaret bars.

The Eldorado was the name of multiple nightclubs and performance venues in Berlin before the Nazi Era and World War II. The name of the cabaret Eldorado has become an integral part of the popular iconography of what has come to be seen as the culture of the period in German history often referred to as the “Weimar Republic”. …

Eldorado was a gay cabaret in that along with gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans* patrons, a heterosexual-identifying audience (artists, authors, celebrities, tourists) would have been present as well. “Cross-dressing” was tolerated on the premises, though for the most part legally prohibited and / or sharply regulated in public (and to an extent in private) at the time. This exception to everyday life attracted not only male patrons who wished to dress in the “clothing of the opposite sex”, and their admirers, but also to no small extent women who wished to do the same, and their admirers. Wealthy lookers-on were encouraged to come and drink and watch as so-called “Zechenmacher” (tab payers). The practice was particularly common in so-called “Lesbian bars” or at so-called “Lesbian balls” in the neighbourhood at the time and up the 1960s in places like the Nationalhof at nearby Bülowstraße 37. As women’s incomes were on average much lower than men’s then as now, male spectators with money to spend were explicitly welcome, and it was not uncommon that there were sex-workers present to offer their services. Eldorado also included what have come to be called drag shows as a regular part of the cabaret performances.

Text from the Wikipedia website


The Eldorado, which opened in 1926 on Lutherstrasse in Berlin-Schoeneberg, was – along with its counterpart, the “new Eldorado” on Motzstrasse – one of the internationally most well-known trendy bars of its time. Magnus Hirschfeld, Claire Waldoff, Anita Berber and Marlene Dietrich often and happily visited the Eldorado, as did the prominent National Socialist Ernst Röhm. With its shows, it attracted a wealthy audience, which soon consisted not only of homosexuals and trans* people, but above all of onlookers heterosexuals. Guests could purchase tokens that could be exchanged for a dance with the Eldorado’s “transvestite” staff.


'Token from the Eldorado with same-sex dancing couples on the front and back' c. 1930


Token from the Eldorado with same-sex dancing couples on the front and back
c. 1930
© Gay Museum, Berlin


Dance monocle in original bag


Dance monocle in original bag
© dhmberlin



A popular accessory for lesbian women in the 1920s was the “dance monocle”

Short hair, ties, tails, and top hats were other identifying marks within part of the lesbian scene – and soon to be common among modern heterosexual women as well. The “New Woman” of the 1920s broke away from traditional gender images and appropriated new things and spaces that had previously been occupied by men.

In the Berlin scene, but also in other cities, numerous gay and lesbian clubs that rented premises, called for social activities, but also explicitly pursued political and emancipatory goals. One of the largest “women’s clubs” was the Violetta Ladies’ Club, founded in Berlin in 1926.

The founder of the women’s club Violetta was the lesbian activist Lotte Hahm (1890-1967), who also wrote for “The Girlfriend”. Together with her Jewish partner Käthe Fleischmann (1899-1967) she ran the lesbian bar Monokel-Diele in Berlin. After 1933, both initially tried to maintain lesbian networks and meeting places under cover names. Fleischmann, persecuted as a Jew, survived the Nazi era in various hiding places.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Invitations to monocle parties of the Violetta women's club in Berlin

Invitations to monocle parties of the Violetta women’s club in Berlin and the women’s association “Geselligkeit” in Chemnitz
In Garçonne 1931/1939
© forummuenchenev


Unknown photographer. 'The Eldorado in the Motzstrasse, corner of Kalckreuthstrasse' 1932


Unknown photographer
The Eldorado in the Motzstrasse, corner of Kalckreuthstrasse
© nsdoku



Meeting places

A lively scene for homosexuals and trans* persons emerged in Germany during the 1920s. Especially in major cities, a number of clubhouses, bars, and clubs functioned as meeting places. The undisputed centre of queer life was Berlin. Police authorities there followed a more liberal course than elsewhere after the end of the nineteenth century. Nearly two hundred subcultural venues are documented in the imperial capital between 1919 and 1933, about eighty of them for lesbian women.

In conservative Munich, as in smaller cities and rural areas, fewer venues existed. Homosexual men had to resort to informal meeting places, due to the ongoing criminal persecution. They used public parks and toilets as “pick-up spots” to socialise or have sex. In doing so, they always ran the risk of being denounced or stopped by the police.


Magazines and informal networks

Magazines were an important means of communication for queer subcultures. They listed relevant clubs and bars, bookstores, and associations, and served as contact exchanges. These references and opportunities were essential particularly for queer people in rural areas, where there were no functioning networks. However, the publishers had to reckon with the banning of their print products at any time. It was not uncommon for entire print runs or volumes to be labeled as “trash texts” and confiscated.

In order to avoid police persecution and social exclusion, the scene employed its own linguistic codes. Camouflage terms such as “friend”, “girlfriend”, “ideal friendship”, “friendly exchange of ideas”, or “ideal-minded” were used to refer to lesbian and gay connections. Lonely hearts ads in relevant magazines were often the only way to find like-minded people, especially in smaller towns and in the countryside.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism showing historical magazines



In TO BE SEEN you can leaf through historical magazines. They were an important means of communication for queer subcultures.

Magazines such as “Die Freundsblatt”, “DasFreundschaftsblatt” or “Frauenliebe” referred to relevant pubs, bookstores and associations and served as contact exchanges. Especially for queer people in rural areas, where there were no functioning networks, these tips and opportunities were essential. However, the publishers had to expect their printed products to be banned at any time. It is not uncommon for entire editions or volumes to be marked as “trash and dirty writing” and confiscated.

“The Girlfriend” (subtitle “The Ideal Friendship Journal”, later “Weekly Journal for Ideal Female Friendship”) was a magazine for lesbian women from 1924 to 1933 in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. It is considered the first lesbian magazine and was first published monthly, then every two weeks, and later even weekly.

The editor was Friedrich Radzuweit (1876-1932), chairman of the Federation for Human Rights. The content focuses on information on lesbian life and meeting places for lesbians, political topics, short stories, serialised novels and classifieds. Although “The Girlfriend” was primarily aimed at a lesbian readership, there are also numerous articles that deal with topics such as ‘transvestism’ or transgender. It was discontinued a few weeks after the National Socialists seized power in January 1933: the last issue appeared on March 15, 1933, a week before the Enabling Act was passed.


Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929


Covers from Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929


Cover of "Die Freundin" (The Girlfriend) 26. December 1927


Cover of “Die Freundin” (The Girlfriend)
26. December 1927
© Forum Queeres Archiv München


Unknown photographer. 'Magnus Hirschfeld' c. 1900


Unknown photographer
Magnus Hirschfeld
c. 1900
© Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz


Unknown photographer. "Zwischenstufenwand" (sexual transitions wall) c. 1925-1930


Unknown photographer
“Zwischenstufenwand” (sexual transitions wall)
c. 1925-1930
Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz



The “Zwischenstufenwand” (sexual transitions wall) in the Institute for Sexology illustrated Hirschfeld’s theory that all people have male and female qualities in them.

The famous picture wall, illustrating Hirschfeld’s sex and gender theories. It was first exhibited in Leipzig (1922) on occasion of the German Natural Scientists’ and Physicians’ centenary and then in Vienna (1930) at the World League for Sexual Reform’s congress. The picture wall (2×1 m by 4×5 m) always had a prominent place in the Institute and was used to explain sexual theories to visitors.


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism



Knowledge, diagnosis, control

Scientific interest in sexuality and gender was expanding around the turn of the century. The amount of sexological research and number of publications increased. Most writings described homosexuality or trans* identities as “pathological” conditions. This assumption has since been scientifically refuted. At the same time, groundbreaking theories emerged, for example Magnus Hirschfeld’s model of “sexual intermediates.” In it, the sexologist anticipated the later realisation that numerous other gender identities besides man and woman exist.

Yet, then as now, knowledge also meant power and control. People were examined, described, classified, and judged as patients. Some sexologists incorporated ideas in their research that drew on biologism and eugenics. These were spread throughout society and later played a central role for the Nazis: their conception of so-called “racial hygiene” distinguished between “valuable” and “unworthy” life.

The driving forces in the German-speaking world from the 1860s on were the lawyer and physician Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and the physician Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Ulrichs in particular fought for the decriminalisation and recognition of homosexuality. His insights into the diversity of sexuality and gender are still essential today. Other scientists understood the “third sex” as a pathological phenomenon and wanted to effect the “re-education” and “healing” of their patients with methods that were sometimes questionable. The result was often physical or psychological trauma.


The Institute for Sexology and its patients

Magnus Hirschfeld was the best-known representative of sexology in the German-speaking world. He combined a pursuit for emancipation and a scientific perspective, was a champion of decriminalisation and a physician at the same time. His Institute for Sexology, founded in Berlin in 1919, became the centre of the liberal-leftist sexual reform movement of the Weimar Republic. In addition to research and medical consulting, the institute operated a library, an archive, and a museum. Unlike conservative sexologists, Hirschfeld and his staff worked towards the self-acceptance of homosexuals and trans* persons.

This “adaptation therapy” or “milieu therapy” aimed to help people adapt to the queer milieu that suited them, instead of repressing their identity. Many important people from the gay community, such as Lili Elbe, were treated here. Homosexual writers such as André Gide and Christopher Isherwood visited the institute. People who today would be considered intersex were also counselled. From the beginning, the Nazis were disturbed by liberal sexology, Hirschfeld, and his institute. Many of the institute’s employees were, like Hirschfeld himself, Jewish. In 1933, Nazi students and SA members demolished the institute; Hirschfeld was on a world tour at the time and remained in exile in France.

The institute grew to become a refuge for “transvestites”. This is how people who we understand today as trans* persons were called at the time. Some of them lived in the institute and earned their living there. They were particularly dependent on it. Despite the institute’s great merits, the relationship between doctors and “patients” was not unproblematic from today’s point of view.

By mediating between queer people and state power, Hirschfeld and his colleagues were able to protect their patients and fight for more rights and freedom for them. But in order to do so, they cooperated with the police and the courts, thus providing the state institutions with access and control. Then as now, intersex and trans* people were rarely perceived as experts on themselves, making them dependent on the recognition bestowed by medicine and the justice system. This was accompanied by a scientific and state-regulatory view of their bodies that pushed them into the role of patients, externally controlled subjects, instead of granting them autonomy over their bodies as well as their own voice.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Hirschfeld’s medical practices are controversial today

However, Magnus Hirschfeld also referred those male homosexuals who, based on his biological research, assumed that homosexuality could also be treated, to other doctors. They castrated the patients and implanted heterosexual testicles in them.

Not only Magnus Hirschfeld’s medical practices, but also his scientific approach is controversial today. His absolute belief in biology leaned towards social Darwinism and eugenics. He founded a “Medical Society for Sexology and Eugenics”. He thus promoted “sexual selection” in order to improve the “mental fitness of the offspring”. He was thus at the same time far away and entirely in line with the National Socialists.

The National Socialists saw Hirschfeld as a security risk, a threat to the population growth of the “Aryan race” and not only in him. Tens of thousands of gay men are sentenced to prison, jail, and concentration camps, the gay civil rights movement is crushed, gay hangouts are closed, magazines are banned, and then, on May 6, 1933, the Institute for Sex Research is looted and its library burned.

Gabi Schlag and Benno Wenz. “Magnus Hirschfeld – pioneer of sex research,” on the SWR website 29.7.2021 [Online] Cited 12/04/2023


Unknown photographer. 'First Congress for Sexual Reform on a Sexological Basis' 1921


Unknown photographer
First Congress for Sexual Reform on a Sexological Basis
From Magnus Hirschfeld, Sexology, vol. 4, plates
© Forum Queeres Archiv München



Session of the “International Conference for Sex Reform on a Sexological Basis”, organised by Hirschfeld 1921 in Berlin at the Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus. (Hirschfeld, leaning forward, is seated just beneath the lectern.) This was the first sexological congress held anywhere, and it laid the groundwork for the Copenhagen congress of 1928.


Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Transvestites in Front of the Institute of Sexology' 1921


Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Transvestites in Front of the Institute of Sexology
Gelatin silver print
© bpk / Kunstbibliothek, SMB, Photothek Willy Römer



Titled “Transvestites in Front of the Institute of Sexology” this photograph was taken on the occasion of the First International Congress for Sexual Reform on the Basis of Sexology in Berlin, 1921.

Willy Römer (December 31 , 1887 in Berlin – October 26, 1979 in West Berlin ) was a press photographer. His picture agency was one of the ten most important of the Weimar period. The pictures mainly illustrate life in Berlin from 1905 to 1935. It is thanks to a rare stroke of luck that his extensive picture archive survived the Second World War almost unscathed.


'"Transvestite Certificate" for Gerd Katter' 1928


“Transvestite Certificate” for Gerd Katter
© Archiv der Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft



Starting in 1900, “Transvestite Certificates” were issued by a doctor, that officially certified that a person was known to be “wearing men’s clothing” or “wearing women’s clothing”.

In TO BE SEEN #QueerLives we also show Gerd Katter’s “Transvestite License”. From 1900, “transvestite certificates” were issued in some cities. It is a medically certified official confirmation that a person is known as “wearing men’s clothing” or “wearing women’s clothing”. The authorities refrain from making an arrest if you show them during checks. However, those affected are thus registered with the police and can be monitored more easily.

Gerd Katter (1910-1995) came to the Institute for Sexology at the age of 16 – at that time still with a female birth name. Barred from having his breasts amputated because of his youth, Katter tries to operate on himself, which requires an emergency amputation. Katter is one of many people who receive concrete, albeit unconventional, help at the institute. So he is prescribed to visit bars where “transvestites” meet. According to the adaptation therapy pursued at the institute, those seeking advice should be brought into contact with like-minded people. This is how they should learn to accept themselves.

Magnus Hirschfeld repeatedly invited Gerd Katter to the institute to show his guests a medical case study – a practice of displaying people and their bodies that was common at the time, but which is problematic from today’s medical-ethical point of view. Gerd Katter later completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter and lived in the GDR.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Charlotte Wolff (German-British, 1897-1986) 'Bisexuality' German edition from 1981


Charlotte Wolff (German-British, 1897-1986)
German edition from 1981
© NS-Dokumentationszentrum München



Charlotte Wolff – Sexology in Exile

Female homosexuality and bisexuality received little attention in the male-dominated field of sexology. An exception was the research of Charlotte Wolff (1897-1986). The physician situated precisely these topics at the centre of her work. After 1933, left-wing, Jewish, and openly lesbian women in Germany were increasingly targeted by the Nazis. Being Jewish, she emigrated to Paris in 1933, and to London in 1936. Her research on lesbian sexuality and bisexuality earned her international recognition beginning in the 1960s.


Feeling Bodies, Seeing Images

At the same time as the advancements in sexology, new notions of the body, gender, and intimacy were finding expression in art and culture. Literature, theatre, film, and the visual arts offered an opportunity to question gender stereotypes and to create new roles and body images. These served as the basis for imagining freer ways of living and to lay the foundation for what we perceive today as queer aesthetics.

While Article 142 of the Weimar Constitution promised extensive artistic freedom, censorship was simultaneously introduced for the new medium of film. Munich in particular had numerous bans on film and theatre performances deemed offensive.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Unknown photographer. 'Anita Berber' c. 1925


Unknown photographer
Anita Berber
c. 1925
© Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin – Archive German State Opera



The bisexual dancer Anita Berber (1899-1928) confronted audiences with homoeroticism, nudity, and drug use, addressing issues that were taboo in the public eye.

The pejorative connotations of decadence as a moral failing or degenerate or degenerative state have often played into the pathologisation and criminalisation of specific bodies and practices. This is especially the case when these bodies and practices come to be seen as a threat to the health and integrity of a nation. Some of the most interesting examples can be found in Berlin at the dawn of the Weimar Republic, when the city itself was subject to charges of miasmic contagion. ‘Even the alkaline air around the Prussian capital (Berliner Luft)’, writes performance scholar Mel Gordon in characteristically hyperbolic style, ‘was said to contain a toxic ether that attacked the central nervous system, stimulating long suppressed passions as it animated all the external tics of sexual perversity’.[1]

Dance was regarded as a vector of transmission in spreading this toxic ether. Social dancing (Tanztaumel) swept Berlin in the year following the armistice, offering writers and cultural commentators a rich repository of tropes and metaphors for describing a social, economic and political situation that appeared to be spinning out of control. …

For dance and theater scholar Karl Toepfer, Berber’s aestheticization of her addictions to a plethora of narcotics presented ‘an almost satiric critique of the pretensions to a healthy, modern identity’.[11] Sickness formed the basis of a carefully stage-managed persona in the public eye that was to manifest in equally carefully choreographed routines. For instance, in one of the better-known dances from the Tänze des Lasters series, Kokain (Cocaine, 1922), Berber stages an embattled, spasmodic body torn between a will to live and the delirious effects of a narcotic. One reviewer described the dance as ‘a product of decay’ and a ‘style of degeneracy’,[12] suggesting that her embodiment of Berlin’s ‘toxic ether’ landed with her audiences (ether was also one of Berber’s drugs of choice, particularly once mixed with chloroform and white rose petals). That this piece was set to Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre (1874) makes it tempting to position it as the epitome of Berlin’s own ‘dance of death’ in which death and sexuality perform a pas de deux across Berber’s performing body – a body that was to succumb to tuberculosis aged only twenty-nine.

Berber’s dances have been read as ‘jejune’ and derivative;[13] however, this does a disservice to what Susan Laikin Funkenstein describes as ‘a more profound understanding of her contributions’ to modern dance history that were ahead of their time.[14] Although Funkenstein is looking to put some distance between Berber’s perception as a ‘depraved vamp’ and her innovativeness as a dancer, I argue that these are mutually enriching considerations in the development of her decadent choreographies. Berber’s ‘sickness’ as an addict, her perceived corruption as a sexual libertine, and (later) her physical sickness after contracting tuberculosis were not adjacent to her work as a dancer. She danced as she lived – which is to say, decadently – just as her bohemian aestheticism makes it difficult to distinguish where her choreographies begin and end.

Dr Adam Alston. “Dancing decadence: Anita Berber,” on the Staging Decadence website 24 January 2023 [Online] Cited 11/04/2023


New images of the body

In the first half of the twentieth century, artists experimented with new representations of the human body. They conceived of a wide spectrum of possible identities and sexualities situated outside the dominant categories. Artists subverted binary notions of gender, whether through ambiguities, gender-neutral codes, or playing with androgynous body images.

In 1933, the Nazis put an end to this diversity. Avant-garde works by artists such as Hannah Höch or Jeanne Mammen were denounced as “degenerate” and confiscated, banned, or destroyed. The regime instead honoured artists such as Arno Breker, Leni Riefenstahl, and Josef Thorak, who immortalised traditional gender images in monumental depictions. Such images supported the Nazi regime’s racial ideals, and endured well into the postwar period.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Claude Cahun. 'Que me veux tu?' 1929


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Que me veux-tu?
Gelatin silver print
Paris Musees, musée d’Art moderne


Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978) 'Untitled (Hannah Höch at her easel, The Hague; self-portrait (double exposure) with the painting Symbolic Landscape III)' 1930


Hannah Höch (German, 1889-1978)
Untitled (Hannah Höch at her easel, The Hague; self-portrait (double exposure) with the painting Symbolic Landscape III)
Gelatin silver print
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022


Hannah Höch worked with clichés and role models in her art and was a significant influence on the Dada movement.



Hannah Höch (German: [hœç]; 1 November 1889 – 31 May 1978) was a German Dada artist. She is best known for her work of the Weimar period, when she was one of the originators of photomontage. Photomontage, or fotomontage, is a type of collage in which the pasted items are actual photographs, or photographic reproductions pulled from the press and other widely produced media.

Höch’s work was intended to dismantle the fable and dichotomy that existed in the concept of the “New Woman”: an energetic, professional, and androgynous woman, who is ready to take her place as man’s equal. Her interest in the topic was in how the dichotomy was structured, as well as in who structures social roles.

Other key themes in Höch’s works were androgyny, political discourse, and shifting gender roles. These themes all interacted to create a feminist discourse surrounding Höch’s works, which encouraged the liberation and agency of women during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and continuing through to today.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München




The works gathered here show homosexual couples and their intimate relationship with each other. At a time when gay and lesbian love could almost solely take place in secret, capturing queer intimacy within art became a political statement. The images represent an act of self-assertion within a discriminatory environment. They propose utopias and alternative realities that make togetherness possible – partly with recourse to antiquity, partly with a visionary view of future forms of loving and being.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Gertrude Sandmann (German, 1893-1981) 'Rosa Nachthemd und schwarzer Pyjama' (Pink nightgown and black pyjamas) 1928


Gertrude Sandmann (German, 1893-1981)
Rosa Nachthemd und schwarzer Pyjama (Pink nightgown and black pyjamas)
© Anja Elisabeth Witte/Berlinische Galerie



Gertrude Sandmann (16 November 1893 – 6 January 1981) was a German artist and Holocaust survivor. Born into a wealthy German-Jewish family, Sandmann studied at the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen and had private tutelage from Käthe Kollwitz. In 1935 she was banned from practicing her profession due to the Nuremberg Laws. Given a deportation order in 1942, she ignored it, faked her own suicide, and hid with friends in Berlin until the end of the war. She lived in an apartment in Berlin-Schöneberg until the end of her life. She was a lesbian and, after the war, worked to improve the rights and visibility of LGBT people. Much of her oeuvre is held by the Potsdam Museum.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Gertrude Sandmann (1893-1981), who trained in Berlin and Munich, took private lessons from Käthe Kollwitz in the 1920s. She and the older artist remained lifelong friends. Unlike Kollwitz, however, Sandmann was less focused on social critique. A committed feminist, women were her favourite theme, as they were for her colleague Jeanne Mammen, who was about the same age.


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism showing at centre, Dora Kallmus’ photograph The trapeze artist Barbette (Nd, below)
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München



The stage as site of utopias

In the Weimar Republic, vaudevilles, theatres, and nightclubs emerged in many major cities, on whose stages a freer treatment of sexuality and gender identities was allowed. Stage celebrities became role models for alternative gender roles, with drag performances developing into a genre in its own right.

The 1920s, often referred to as “golden” years, were by no means characterised by prosperity for most citizens, even though more and more people gained access to entertainment culture. War trauma and economic hardship stimulated the need to escape the worries of everyday life.

For many people, the bars and clubs of this period were places where they came into contact with alternative gender images and homosexuality, as well as where social debates were sparked.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Dora Kallmus (Austrian, 1881-1963) 'The vaudeville and trapeze artist Barbette' Nd


Dora Kallmus (Atelier d’Ora) (Austrian, 1881-1963)
The vaudeville and trapeze artist Barbette
© Estate of Madame d’Ora, MK&G ~ Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg



The trapeze artist Barbette (real name Vander Clyde, 1899-1973) celebrated great success in Europe from the mid-1920s. Barbette performed, among other things, in the Berlin Varieté Wintergarten. The sensational productions of the “female impersonators” became increasingly known to a mass audience – and thus also helped the male and female impersonators of the Berlin scene to gain acceptance.


Dora Philippine Kallmus (20 March 1881 – 28 October 1963), also known as Madame D’Ora or Madame d’Ora, was an Austrian fashion and portrait photographer.


Early life

Dora Philippine Kallmus was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1881 to a Jewish family. Her father was a lawyer. Her sister, Anna, was born in 1878 and deported in 1941 during the Holocaust. Although her mother, Malvine (née Sonnenberg), died when she was young, her family remained an important source of emotional and financial support throughout her career.

She and her sister, Anna, were both “well-educated,” spoke English and French, and played the piano. They had also traveled throughout Europe.

She became interested in the photography field while assisting the son of the painter Hans Makart, and in 1905 she was the first woman to be admitted to theory courses at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt (Graphic Training Institute). That same year she became a member of the Association of Austrian photographers. At that time she was also the first woman allowed to study theory at the Graphischen Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt, which in 1908 granted women access to other courses in photography.



In 1907, she established her own studio with Arthur Benda in Vienna called the Atelier d’Ora or Madame D’Ora-Benda. The name was based on the pseudonym “Madame d’Ora”, which she used professionally. D’ora and Benda operated a summer studio from 1921 to 1926 in Karlsbad, Germany, and opened another gallery in Paris in 1925. The Karlsbad gallery allowed D’Ora to cater to the “international elite vacationers.” These same clients later convinced her to open her Paris studio.

Between 1917 and 1927, D’Ora’s studio “produced” photographs for Ludwig Zwieback & Bruder, a Viennese department store. She was represented by Schostal Photo Agency (Agentur Schostal) and it was her intervention that saved the agency’s owner after his arrest by the Nazis, enabling him to flee to Paris from Vienna.

Her subjects included Josephine Baker, Coco Chanel, Tamara de Lempicka, Alban Berg, Maurice Chevalier, Colette, and other dancers, actors, painters, and writers.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Dora Kallmus (Austrian, 1881-1963) 'The vaudeville and trapeze artist Barbette' Nd (detail)


Dora Kallmus (Austrian, 1881-1963)
The vaudeville and trapeze artist Barbette (detail)
© Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Unknown photographer. 'Dance study of Alexander Sakharoff' 1912


Unknown photographer
Dance study of Alexander Sakharoff
Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration: illustr. Monatshefte für moderne Malerei, Plastik, Architektur, Wohnungskunst u. künstlerisches Frauen-Arbeiten – 30.1912


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München



Life under dictatorship

After the Nazis took power in 1933, every form of queer life was threatened and continued to exist only in private spaces or secret locations. Hopes for a tacit tolerance of homosexuality by the Nazis were finally dashed after the murder of Ernst Röhm, chief of- staff of the SA (Storm Troopers). The period of open persecution had begun.

During the first major Nazi raids against homosexuals on October 20, 1934, 145 men were arrested in Munich alone. Paragraph 175 of the penal code was made more severe in June 1935: any act between men bearing sexual suggestion was now punishable.

About 57,000 homosexual men were sentenced to prison, and between 6,000 and 10,000 of them were deported to concentration camps, of whom at least half were murdered.

Female homosexuality was not prosecuted in the dictatorship, but was socially ostracised. If lesbian women and persons who did not conform to their gender were denounced, they were threatened with police investigations, house searches, and interrogations. If political opposition, social deviance, or racial persecution additionally occurred, they faced repression or even internment in a concentration camp.

The graphic artist Richard Grune (1903-1983) was imprisoned almost continuously from 1934 to 1945 because of his homosexuality. After his liberation from the concentration camp, he processed what he had experienced through art.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Richard Grune (German, 1903-1983) 'Solidarity: Prisoner Supports His Exhausted Comrade' 1945-1947


Richard Grune (German, 1903-1983)
Solidarity: Prisoner Supports His Exhausted Comrade
© Wien Museum


“Solidarity,” a lithograph of one prisoner supporting another, by German artist Richard Grune, who spent eight years in Nazi concentration camps after being convicted for homosexuality.



Trained as an artist and graphic designer, 29-year-old Richard Grune moved to Berlin the same month that the police began forcing these establishments to shut down. Although prominent nightclubs like the Eldorado faced closure, members of these communities still found ways to continue gathering more privately. For example, Grune hosted two parties for friends in his studio in fall 1934. He was denounced afterward – along with dozens of others – by a private citizen who often passed information to police. Grune was then arrested for alleged violations of Paragraph 175, the statute of the German criminal code that criminalised sexual relations between men. He was imprisoned for several months before being convicted and sentenced to a year in prison.

After serving his sentence, Grune was arrested again by the Gestapo and held indefinitely in what was misleadingly referred to as “protective custody” (“Schutzhaft”) – an experience shared by many convicted of violating Paragraph 175 under the Nazi regime.5 Grune spent the next decade in concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg. He escaped from Flossenbürg in April 1945 as American forces approached and camp authorities evacuated the prisoners.

Grune created the featured lithograph6 – “Solidarity: Prisoner Supports His Exhausted Comrade” – in 1945 as part of a series of images inspired by his experiences as a prisoner in the Nazi camp system. These lithographs were reproduced in two published portfolios in 1947.7 Grune’s artwork reflects many of his own experiences, but it does not reference his persecution as a gay man in any specific way. Instead, his lithographs seem to suggest the idea of shared suffering among all concentration camp prisoners. Because sexual relations between men remained criminalised for decades in Germany after the end of World War II, many people convicted under Paragraph 175 chose to conceal the details of their past persecution under the Nazi regime.8

After the war, Grune chose to portray himself as a political prisoner of Nazism, but he was not able to obtain official recognition or compensation for his suffering. Although his lithographs are among the most important artistic representations of concentration camp experiences created immediately after the war, Grune could not support himself as an artist. He did occasionally find design and illustration work, but he made his living by working as a bricklayer. Grune died in obscurity in Kiel, Germany in 1983.

Anonymous. “Lithograph by Richard Grune,” on the Holocaust Sources in Context website Nd [Online] Cited 10/04/2023


"This is how the Führer cleaned up!" Front page of the extra issue of the 'Völkischer Beobachter', June 30, 1934, Berlin edition


“This is how the Führer cleaned up!”
Front page of the extra issue of the Völkischer Beobachter, June 30, 1934, Berlin edition
Public domain



Homosexuality in Nazi organisations and in the military

The proscription of homosexuality was used by various sides in the political struggle. In 1931 / 1932, the Social Democrats utilised Ernst Röhm’s homosexuality to harm the Nazi Party. The Röhm case served the notion of “gay Nazis” gathering together in male associations, a phenomenon that did exist. Beginning in the mid-1930s, the Nazi regime increasingly cracked down on homosexual activity in the army, police, and Nazi associations. Intimacy between men was now punished particularly severely in party organisations and the police. Nazi propaganda labeled homosexual men as “enemies of the state” to legitimise this persecution. Nevertheless, clandestine homosexual encounters continued to occur.


Adapting to survive

After the dismantling of gay and lesbian subcultures across the entire state and the harshening of criminal law, homosexual contact took place almost exclusively in private spaces. Fear of denunciation and persecution drove most homosexuals to hide their sexuality and conform.

This also applied to lesbian women and trans* persons, who were not prosecuted per se. They could remain unhampered as long as they did not attract attention. Marriages of convenience were one of many survival strategies. Certain prominent artists were tolerated by the Nazi regime despite their widely known homosexuality. The regime, which needed these stars for its propaganda, held off on persecution, and demanded that they conform in their way of living.


Persecution and imprisonment

The Nazi regime’s treatment of homosexuals and trans* persons was not uniform. Initially, most of the men convicted under Paragraph 175 were released after serving their prison sentences. Especially since 1940 many were transferred to concentration camps. Lesbian women and trans* persons were sometimes charged with other crimes, such as prostitution or indecent behaviour. Others were persecuted for political, social, or racist reasons.

The Nazi regime’s treatment of homosexuals and trans* persons was not uniform. Initially, most of the men convicted under Paragraph 175 were released after serving their prison sentences. Especially since 1940 many were transferred to concentration camps. Lesbian women and trans* persons were sometimes charged with other crimes, such as prostitution or indecent behaviour. Others were persecuted for political, social, or racist reasons.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Unknown photographer. 'Photographs from Elisabeth (Lilly) Wust's diary entry on the deportation of her Jewish partner Felice Schragenheim to the Theresienstadt concentration camp' August 21, 1944


Unknown photographer
Photographs from Elisabeth (Lilly) Wust’s diary entry on the deportation of her Jewish partner Felice Schragenheim to the Theresienstadt concentration camp
August 21, 1944
© Jewish Museum Berlin


Part of the diary entry by Elisabeth (Lilly) Wust on the deportation of her Jewish partner Felice Schragenheim to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, August 21, 1944



Elisabeth (Lilly) Wust (1913-2006) and Felice Schragenheim (1922-1945) met in Berlin in 1942, shortly after Schragenheim went into hiding as a Jew. They moved in together a little later and promised to marry in June 1944. On August 21, 1944, Felice Schragenheim was discovered and taken to a Berlin collection point for Jews. Lilly Wust visited her there several times before the deportation to the Theresienstadt ghetto. In the hope of being able to help her beloved, Lilly Wust travelled to Theresienstadt herself in the fall of 1944.

Felice was deported to Auschwitz a little later. She died in early 1945, probably in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Lilly Wust searched for her for years.

The love story of Lily Wust and Felice Schragenheim gained notoriety in the 1990s through the book “Aimée & Jaguar” and the feature film of the same name. However, there is another version of the story: Elenai Predski-Kramer, a former girlfriend of Felice Schragenheim, tells her perspective on the love story after the book was published and expresses the suspicion that Lilly Wust herself might have betrayed Felice Schragenheim. However, there is no evidence for this.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Unknown photographer. 'Photograph from Elisabeth (Lilly) Wust's diary entry on the deportation of her Jewish partner Felice Schragenheim to the Theresienstadt concentration camp' August 21, 1944 (detail)


Unknown photographer
Photograph from Elisabeth (Lilly) Wust’s diary entry on the deportation of her Jewish partner Felice Schragenheim to the Theresienstadt concentration camp (detail)
August 21, 1944
© Jewish Museum Berlin



Exile and resistance

Only a few homosexual and trans* people succeeded in escaping Nazi persecution through emigration. This option was usually only open to the wealthy or those who had international contacts and could find work abroad thanks to their education and language skills. Leaving Nazi Germany was made more difficult by the measures against capital transfer, which were tightened in 1934. The “Reich Flight Tax” reduced assets by 25 percent upon departure, the export of foreign currency was prohibited, and the transfer of bank or securities assets was made almost impossible.

Individual homosexual or transgender people decided to actively resist the Nazi regime, also in the territories occupied by Germany. They documented the crimes of the Nazi regime, called for resistance, carried out sabotage, committed attacks, or fought as partisans or members of foreign troops against Hitler’s Germany.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Claude Cahun. 'Self-portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)' 1945


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Self Portrait (with Nazi badge between her teeth)
Gelatin silver print
© Jersey Heritage Collection


Jewish-French author and photographer Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) and her partner Marcel Moore (French, 1892-1972)  put up resistance against the Nazi regime.



After four years of subversive activity, the pair were arrested by the Germans in 1944. Initially, the Nazi authorities couldn’t believe that the women carried it out by themselves. “They believed that there must be somebody else involved, there must be a man involved,” says Downie.

While waiting to be questioned, Cahun and Moore attempted suicide. They both took pills – barbiturates – which put them into a coma. Once they were well enough, they were sentenced to death for undermining the German forces. But the Bailiff of Jersey and the French Consul pleaded on their behalf – by that time, the Normandy landings had happened and Saint-Malo (the main connecting port) had been liberated, so they could no longer be deported to camps in Europe – and their sentence was commuted.

Although their lives had been saved, Moore and Cahun were not pleased. “They wanted to be martyrs for their cause,” says Downie. “To them, that would’ve been the realisation of their life of resistance, to be a martyr for freedom.”

At 3.40pm on May 9, 1945, the swastika was lowered from Fort Regent, a 19th-century fortification in St Helier, and the Union Jack was hoisted, signalling the official end of the occupation. Then the celebrations began. Cahun joined the crowds in Royal Square cheering, flag-waving, and holding a sailor aloft. Despite ill health from their time in prison, they kept on creating work after the war. In the same month, a photograph shows them gripping a Nazi eagle badge brazenly between their teeth, a silk scarf tied around their head, their hands dug into their coat pockets, their eyes staring defiantly at the camera.

Jessie Williams. “Claude Cahun: Jersey’s queer, anti-Nazi freedom fighter,” on the Huck website 14th May, 2020 [Online] Cited 17/04/2023


After 1945

Queer history was hardly remembered or archived after 1945. To this day, we know only some of the pioneers of the queer emancipation movement. We know even less about the life of those who were persecuted, driven into exile, murdered – or simply remained invisible.

After the end of the war, queer people continued to be marginalised. Gay men in particular continued to suffer in large numbers under Paragraph 175, many of whom did not go free but were transferred from concentration camps directly to prisons.

The ongoing discrimination by state and society changed only slowly. In 1969, Paragraph 175 was reformed and criminal law liberalised. Beginning in the 1970s, new social movements emerged, including a homosexual emancipation movement. Various groups reclaimed the “pink triangle” as a symbol to stand up for the rights of queer people.

Lesbian and feminist groups also gained popularity during the 1970s. Although lesbian sexuality was not directly persecuted by the state, many suffered from the misogynistic legal situation. The legal preferential treatment of men made it difficult to live out lesbian relationships, due to discrimination in labor and marriage laws.

The emergence of HIV in the 1980s affected many gay men and trans* people: thousands became infected, developed AIDS, and died. The state did not help, but instead relied on stigmatising measures and an aggressive rhetoric of exclusion, especially in Bavaria. For those affected, this recalled the previous period of open persecution.

Thanks to the efforts of activists, the health, political, and social situation of LGBTQI+ persons has improved since the 1990s. Today, queer people in Germany can celebrate some achievements and are also represented in politics. However, much remains to be done for LGBTQI+ equality. In many places around the world the situation is increasingly deteriorating. Trans* people in particular continue to face great discrimination.

Therefore, the commitment to queer self-determination is not over, but more relevant than ever. Because in the end, it not only ensures the preservation of LGBTIQ* human rights, but creates a more just society for all.

Text from Stories of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950


Paul Hoecker (German, 1854-1910)

Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism

Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism showing at left on the wall, Paul Hoecker’s painting Head of a youth / Portrait of a boy (1901); and at right on the wall, Paul Hoecker’s painting Pierrot (Nd)
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München


Paul Hoecker (German, 1854-1910) 'Young Man's Head' Cover of 'Jugen' magazine, volume 44, 1901


Paul Hoecker (German, 1854-1910)
Young Man’s Head
Cover of Jugend magazine, volume 44, 1901
Public domain



A chapter of TO BE SEEN #QueerLives is dedicated to the artist Paul Hoecker (1854-1910). It was created in collaboration with @forummuenchenev, which researches Hoecker’s story to honor and commemorate his life and work.

Paul Hoecker shaped the Munich art scene in the late 19th century. After his homosexuality became known, the artist was excluded and fell into oblivion. As a professor at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, Hoecker had a great deal of influence during his lifetime: almost all the painters in the artist group “Die Scholle” and many illustrators for the magazines “Simplicissimus” and “Die Jugend” were among his students. The co-founder of the Munich Secession also received great recognition for his artistic work.

Hoecker privately exchanged views with the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld about the fact that he has “contrasexual tendencies”, i.e. is gay. When a sex worker was recognised in the model of his acclaimed work “Ave Maria”, he was involuntarily outed. Paul Hoecker forestalled a scandal by resigning from his professorship. In this way he was able to avoid having to take a public position on his sexuality. He withdrew first to Italy and later to his home in Silesia, Oberlangenau.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Paul Hoecker (11 August 1854, Oberlangenau – 13 January 1910, Munich) was a German painter of the Munich School and founding member of the Munich Secession…


The Munich Academy

In 1891, at the young age of 36, he was appointed to the Munich Academy, where he replaced Friedrich August von Kaulbach, who had resigned suddenly. He was the first teacher at the academy to take his students on field trips, which often lasted two weeks. He was also one of the first “modern” teachers there, exposing his students to impressionism and the latest developments from the Barbizon School. His studio was often referred to as the “Geniekasten” (Genius Box).

Due to the pervasive influence of Franz von Lenbach, very little exhibition space was available for any art that was considered modern. In 1892, shortly after being appointed a professor, this problem motivated Hoecker to become one of the founding members of the Munich Secession, acting as its secretary. The Secession ultimately inspired similar movements in Berlin and other cities.



In 1897, a scandal broke out when it was rumoured that Hoecker had used a male prostitute as a model for a painting of the Madonna. Eventually, the scandal became more personal in nature, and he chose to resign from the academy. He then travelled to Capri, where he stayed at the Villa Lysis, home of industrialist and poet Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen, who had left Paris in the wake of his own scandal. While there, Hoecker painted several portraits of Fersen’s lover, Nino Cesarini, a professional model. Though the Jugend magazine published one of his Nino portraits in 1904 – a fully clothed version. By 1901 he returned to Oberlangenau. In 1910, he died of what was diagnosed as “Roman Malaria”.


Posthumous recognition

Despite his important role for the Munich art scene of the late 19th century, Paul Hoecker is hardly known today. This is probably due to the fact that he left the professorship in connection with his homosexuality. In October 2019 a research group was formed at the Forum Queeres Archiv München to investigate the life and work of the painter. Part of the family owned estate of Paul Hoecker has found its way into the archive of the Forum Queeres Archiv München and was digitalised.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Elisar von Kupffer (German, 1872-1942) 'Dove Sei? / Where Are You?' 1914/1918


Elisar von Kupffer (German, 1872-1942)
Dove Sei? / Where Are You?
© Comune di Minusio – Centro Elisarion



Elisàr August Emanuel von Kupffer (20 February 1872 – 31 October 1942) was a Baltic German artist, anthologist, poet, historian, translator, and playwright. He used the pseudonym “Elisarion” for most of his writings…



In 1895 he published Leben und Liebe (Life and Love), a book of poetry. In autumn of that year he moved to Berlin to study at the Berlin Art Academy and moved in with Von Mayer. The following year, he left Agnes and wrote the dramas Der Herr der Welt (Master of the World), and Irrlichter (Wisps) as well as three one-act plays. In 1897 he published the anthology Ehrlos (Infamous, or Dishonorable).

Von Mayer graduated in 1897 and they travelled throughout Italy, Sicily, Southern France and Geneva before returning to Berlin. They spent the summer in Thuringia and Heiligendamm and went back to Italy in 1899. Early next year, Adolf Brand published Von Kupffer’s influential anthology of homoerotic literature, Lieblingminne und Freundesliebe in der Weltliteratur (roughly, “Love of Favourites and Love Between Friends in World Literature”. Lieblingminne is a neologism created by Von Kupffer). The anthology was researched and created, in part, as a protest against the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in England. It was reprinted in 1995.

In 1908 he published a book on Il Sodoma, the Renaissance artist. In 1911, he and Von Mayer founded the publishing house Klaristische Verlag Akropolis in Munich and Von Kupffer published three major works: a play, Aino und Tio, Hymnen der heiligen Burg (Hymns of the Holy Castle) and Ein neuer Flug und eine heilige Burg (A New Flight and a Holy Castle). His work was also published and reviewed in the gay magazine Akademos, published by Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen. That same year, he and Von Meyer announced the creation of a “new religion”, Klarismus (Clarity), and established a community in Weimar. The following year he published a book on Klarismus called Der unbekannte Gott (The Unknown God). In 1913, the Brogi Gallery in Florence hosted his first art exhibition. Later that year, a Klarist community was established in Zürich.


Later life and death

In 1915, with World War I in progress and growing animosity towards Germans, they left Italy and moved to Ticino, where Von Kupffer established himself as a painter and muralist in Locarno, Switzerland. They were granted Swiss citizenship in 1922. From 1925 to 1929 they transformed their villa in Minusio, near Lake Maggiore, into an opulent collection of art, the “Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion”. He was also a photographer, making photographic studies of boys for use in the creation of his paintings, but most of his works featured a youthful version of himself. The Klarist “Elisarion Community” was founded at Minusio in 1926. During the 1930s, the number of visitors increased, then sharply decreased; stopping altogether just before the onset of World War II.

As his health declined, he became reclusive and died on 31 October 1942. Since 1981 the “Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion” has been a Museum dedicated to Von Kupffer’s work. The villa was willed to the municipality of Minusio, and his ashes are interred inside, together with Von Meyer’s. The Elisarion Community was satirically referenced as the “Polysadrion” (roughly; Place of Many Idiots), in the 1931 novel Schloss Gripsholm by Kurt Tucholsky.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Germaine Krull. 'Nude' Nd

Germaine Krull (1897-1985, photographer) From the portfolio 'Les amies' c. 1924


Germaine Krull (European, 1897-1985)
Les Amies
From the portfolio Nudes
© Staatsgalerie Stuttgart



Germaine Luise Krull (20 November 1897 – 31 July 1985) was a photographer, political activist, and hotel owner. Her nationality has been categorised as German, French, and Dutch, but she spent years in Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and India. Described as “an especially outspoken example” of a group of early 20th-century female photographers who “could lead lives free from convention”, she is best known for photographically illustrated books such as her 1928 portfolio Métal.


Heinz Loew (German, 1903-1981) 'Doppelportrait Heinz Loew und Hermann Trinkaus im Atelier, Bauhaus Dessau, Doppelbelichtung' (Double portrait of Heinz Loew and Hermann Trinkaus in the studio, Bauhaus Dessau, double exposure) 1927


Heinz Loew (German, 1903-1981)
Doppelportrait Heinz Loew und Hermann Trinkaus im Atelier, Bauhaus Dessau, Doppelbelichtung (Double portrait of Heinz Loew and Hermann Trinkaus in the studio, Bauhaus Dessau, double exposure)
Gelatin silver print
3 1/2 x 4 1/4″ (9 x 12cm)
© Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin


Christian Schad. 'Boys in Love' (Liebende Knaben), 1929


Christian Schad
Boys in Love (Liebende Knaben)
© Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022


Max Peiffer Watenphul (German, 1896-1976) 'Stillleben mit Mimosen' (Still Life with Mimosas) 1932


Max Peiffer Watenphul (German, 1896-1976)
Stillleben mit Mimosen (Still Life with Mimosas)



Max Peiffer Watenphul (1896 – 13 July 1976) was a German artist. Described as a “lyric poet of painting”, he belongs to a “tradition of German painters for whom the Italian landscape represented Arcadia.” In addition to Mediterranean scenes, he regularly depicted Salzburg and painted many still lifes of flowers. As well as oil paintings, his extensive body of work encompasses watercolours, drawings, enamel, textiles, graphic art, and photographs.


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940). 'Lili with a Feather Fan' 1920


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Lili with a Feather Fan


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940). 'Lili Elbe' c. 1928


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Lili Elbe
c. 1928


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940). 'At the mirror' 1931-1936


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
At the mirror


'Advertisement by the Hella Knabe tailoring studio' 1932


Advertisement by the Hella Knabe tailoring studio
In Die Freund, December 31, 1932
© forummuenchenev



On December 31, 1932 … this advertisement for Hella Knabe’s tailoring studio appeared in “Die Freund”. In the 1920s, a separate infrastructure was also created for “transvestites” – people who preferred the clothing of the opposite sex, including trans* people. Hella Knabe’s made-to-measure studio became a nationwide attraction. The hairdresser and seamstress, whose husband was a “transvestite” himself, advertised not only in scene magazines, but also in national magazines such as Jugend and Simplicissimus.

Hella Knabe made women’s underwear, artificial busts, corsets and chastity belts for her customers and ran a mail order business. In addition, she received boarders, clothed them, applied make-up and enabled them to live in the opposite sex for a short time. She continued to offer her services after 1933 and kept in touch with her clients through her own magazine with subcultural content. In 1938 she was therefore fined for distributing “lewd literature”.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Damenbar' (Lesbian Bar) c. 1930-1932


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Damenbar (Lesbian Bar)
c. 1930-1932


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Siesta' c. 1930-1932


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
c. 1930-1932


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'Hermaphrodite' c. 1945


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
c. 1945
© Stadtmuseum Berlin / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022



Jeanne Mammen (21 November 1890 – 22 April 1976) was a German painter and illustrator of the Weimar period. Her work is associated with the New Objectivity and Symbolism movements. She is best known for her depictions of strong, sensual women and Berlin city life.

Jeanne Mammen was born in Berlin, the daughter of a successful German merchant. She and her family moved to Paris when she was five years old. She studied art in Paris, Brussels and Rome from 1906-1911. Her early work, influenced by Symbolism, Art Nouveau, and the Decadent movement, was exhibited in Brussels and Paris in 1912 and 1913.

In 1916 Mammen and her family fled Paris to avoid internment during World War I. While her parents moved to Amsterdam, Mammen chose instead to return to Berlin. She was now financially on her own for the first time, as the French government had confiscated all of her family’s property. For several years Mammen struggled to make ends meet, taking any work she could find, and spending time with people from different class backgrounds. These experiences and newfound sympathies are reflected in her artwork from the period.

In time Mammen was able to find work as a commercial artist, producing fashion plates, movie posters, and caricatures for satirical journals such as Simplicissimus, Ulk, and Jugend. In the mid-1920s she became known for her illustrations evoking the urban atmosphere of Berlin. Much of her artwork depicted women. These women subjects often included haughty socialites, fashionable middle-class shop girls, street singers, and prostitutes. Her drawings were often compared to those of George Grosz and Otto Dix. Throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s she worked mainly in pencil with watercolour washes, and in pen and ink.

In 1921, Mammen moved into an apartment with her sister in Berlin. This apartment was a former photographer’s studio which she lived in until her death. Aside from Art throughout her life Mammen also was interested in science. She was close friends with Max Delbrück who left Europe and took some of her artwork with him and exhibited them in California. In addition to bringing these art works to be exhibited he also sent Mammen care packages from the United States with art supplies.

In 1930 she had a major exhibition in the Fritz Gurlitt gallery. Over the next two years, at Gurlitt’s suggestion, she created one of her most important works: a series of eight lithographs illustrating Les Chansons de Bilitis, a collection of lesbian love poems by Pierre Louÿs.

In 1933, following Mammen’s inclusion in an exhibition of female artists in Berlin, the Nazi authorities denounced her motifs and subjects as “Jewish”, and banned her lithographs for Les Chansons de Bilitis. The Nazis were also opposed to her blatant disregard to for apparent ‘appropriate’ female submissiveness in her expressions of her subjects. Much of her work also includes imagery of lesbians. The Nazis shut down most of the journals she had worked for, and she refused to work for those that complied with their cultural policies. Until the end of the war she practiced a kind of “inner emigration”. She stopped exhibiting her work and focused on advertising. For a time she also peddled second-hand books from a handcart.

In the 1940s, in a show of solidarity, Mammen began experimenting with Cubism and expressionism, a risky move given the Nazis’ condemnation of abstract art as “degenerate”. After the war she took to collecting wires, string, and other materials from the streets of bombed-out Berlin to create reliefs. In the late 1940s she began exhibiting her work again, as well as designing sets for the Die Badewanne cabaret. She created abstract collages from various materials, including candy wrappers. In the 1950s she adopted a new style, combining thick layers of oil paint with a few fine marks on the surface.

In the 1970s there was a resurgence of interest in Mammen’s early work as German art historians, as well as art historians of the women’s movement, rediscovered her paintings and illustrations from the Weimar period. In 2013 her later, more abstract work was featured in “Painting Forever!”, a large-scale exhibition held during Berlin Art Week. In 2017-2018, the Berlinische Galerie mounted a major exhibition of Mammen’s work, titled, “Jeanne Mammen: Die Beobachterin: Retrospektive 1910-1975” (Jeanne Mammen: The Observer: Retrospective 1910-1975), which included more than 170 works in various media, covering the period from the 1920s to her late work in the 1960s and beyond. The show was conceived as an update to a show mounted by the Galerie at the Martin Gropius Bau in 1997, which featured primarily works from the 1920s. In 2010 the Des Moines Art Center exhibited 13 water colour paintings done by Mammen which were inspired by Berlin in the Weimer era.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Beachcomber, Baltic Sea' 1933


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Beachcomber, Baltic Sea
Gelatin silver print


Renée Sintenis (German born Poland, 1888-1965) 'Zwei stehende Rehe' (Two Standing Deer) 1948


Renée Sintenis (German born Poland, 1888-1965)
Zwei stehende Rehe (Two Standing Deer)
22.3 x 15.2cm
© Georg Kolbe Museum, Berlin



Renée Sintenis, née Renate Alice Sintenis (20 March 1888 – 22 April 1965), also known as Frau Emil R. Weiss, was a German sculptor, medallist, and graphic artist who worked in Berlin. She created mainly small-sized animal sculptures, female nudes, portraits, and sports statuettes. She is especially known for her Berlin Bear sculptures, which was used as the design for the Berlinale’s top film award, the Golden Bear…



When Renée Sintenis (as she called herself from then on) met the sculptor Georg Kolbe in 1910, she became his model. She modelled for a now lost life-sized statue.

Inspired by this activity, she began creating in sculpture female nudes, expressive heads like those of André Gide and Joachim Ringelnatz, athletes like the Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, and self-portraits in drawings, sculptures (in terracotta) and etchings.

After 1915, the concise animal figures emerged, which became the subject of her artistic life. Since she rejected monumentality in sculpture, she mainly created small-format sculptures. These small works of art such as horses, deers, donkeys and dogs, enjoyed great popularity with the public because they were cheaper, suitable as gifts and could be placed in small rooms.

From attending Kolbe’s studio, a long-term friendship developed, which he accompanied artistically. In the 1913 Berlin autumn exhibition, the first major exhibition of the Free Secession, Sintenis took part (as in the following years) with small-format plaster sculptures.

From 1913 on, she had her works cast in the Hermann Noack fine art foundry, which she attended artistically for decades.

In 1917 she married the type artist, book designer, painter and illustrator Emil Rudolf Weiß, whom she had met years earlier as her teacher and was also and then as a fatherly friend. He supported her and introduced her to numerous other artists. Their collaboration was limited to a few joint projects, of which the edition of the 22 Songs of the poems by Sappho, for which she created the etchings and Weiß made the font designs, achieved particular fame.

From 1913 she exhibited her sculptures regularly and was highly valued by her colleagues from the Free Secession, the most important Berlin artists’ association, among others, by Max Liebermann, Max Beckmann, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. The opening of a gallery in Berlin in 1922 made her the most important protagonist of the well-known Flechtheim art circle in those years. The art-interested public was infatuated with her athletic figures, portraits of friends and the small-format self-portraits.

In addition, due to her body size, slim figure, charisma, her self-confident, fashionable demeanor and androgynous beauty, she was often portrayed by artists like her husband, Emil Rudolf Weiß and Georg Kolbe, and by photographers, like Hugo Erfurth, Fritz Eschen and Frieda Riess. She embodied perfectly the type of the ‘new woman’ of the 1920s, even if she appeared rather reserved.

During the Weimar Republic, Renée Sintenis became an internationally recognised artist, with exhibitions in the Berlin Nationalgalerie, in Berlin, in Paris, the Tate Gallery, in London, the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, Glasgow and Rotterdam. Her small-sized depictions of athletes (boxers, footballers, runners) and portrait busts of their circle of friends were found in public and private collections around the world.

In 1928 Sintenis won the bronze medal in the sculpture section of the art competition for the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, for her “Footballeur”. She is thought to be the first LGBTQ+ Olympic medallist. Renée Sintenis took part in the 1929 exhibition of the German Association of Artists in the Cologne State House, with five small-format animal sculptures. In 1930 she met the French sculptor Aristide Maillol in Berlin. In 1931 she was appointed as the first sculptor, and second woman after Käthe Kollwitz, together with 13 other artists, to join the Berlin Academy of the Arts – Fine Arts section, although the National Socialists forced her to leave in 1934.

In 1932, she created a statue of the Berlin Bear, a bear standing on its hind legs with its arms raised, based on the Coat of arms of Berlin. The design was popular, and she sold many 15 cm (5.9 in) statues of the bear, which brought wealth and was taken up again in later life.


Third Reich

Emil Rudolf Weiß was dismissed from his university post on 1 April 1933, because of an angry statement against the Nazi regime and the law to reintroduce the civil service. Sintenis herself was excluded from the Academy of the Arts in 1934 because of her Jewish origins – her maternal grandmother was Jewish before her conversion. Nevertheless, she was able to stay in the Reich Chamber of Culture, even if her works were removed from public collections by the National Socialists.

During the Third Reich, Renée Sintenis and her husband Emil Rudolf Weiß lived with considerable restrictions. She continued to exhibit, although one of her self-portraits was shown in the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich in 1934. Since she was not banned from exhibiting, she was represented in Düsseldorf by the art dealer Alex Vömel, Flechtheim’s successor. In contrast to the 1920s, she was not doing well financially, which was reinforced by the bronze casting ban of 1941.

Until the forced dissolution of the Deutscher Künstlerbund in 1936, Sintenis remained a member of the German Association of Artists. That she was sponsored by the NSDAP propagandist Hans Hinkel, as it was later claimed, has not been proven and is highly unlikely.

Her husband died unexpectedly on 7 November 1942 in Meersburg on the Lake Constance. His death plunged Sintenis into a deep crisis. As a result, she took over his studio in the Künstlerhaus on Kurfürstenstrasse, where Max Pechstein also worked. His family took temporarily on her when her studio house was destroyed by arson and several Allied bombings in 1945. Sintenis lost almost all of her possessions; all papers and parts of her work were lost. While most of the cast models were preserved, the plaster frames of most of the portrait heads were also destroyed. In a self-portrait mask from 1944, the hardships of the war years are visible in her features.


Post-war career

After the war, Sintenis and her partner Magdalena Goldmann moved into an apartment on Innsbrucker Strasse in 1945, where they both lived until their deaths. In 1948, Sintenis received the art prize of the city of Berlin and was appointed by Karl Hofer to the Berlin University of Fine Arts. She was appointed full professor in 1955, although she gave up teaching the same year. She was also appointed to the newly founded Academy of the Arts of Berlin (West) in 1955.

In the 1950s, she became very successful once again. She stayed true to her artistic focus and motifs, which she called “making animals”.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Lena Rosa Händle (German, b. 1976) 'Girl Under Trees' 2016


Lena Rosa Händle (German, b. 1976)
Girl Under Trees
Courtesy the artist
Photo: @frau_orla



In “These hands – a world without equal” (2022, below), the artist Lena Rosa Händle explores the continuation of hidden lesbian codes from the 1920s to the present day. Händle refers to the dancer Tilly Losch, the painter Mariette Lydis and the artist Claude Cahun and focuses on the motif of the hands as a gesture and code of lesbian people. In her photographs, @lenarosahaendle, together with DJane and curator @tonicahunter, reinterprets traditional gestures and is reminiscent of the first female photo studios of the 1920s.

For her work “Girls under Trees” (2016, above), Händle draws on the motif of a tapestry that schoolgirls painstakingly embroidered in 1941 in needlework classes, which were compulsory for girls at the time. Händle adds two personal ads from the newsreel published in Vienna in 1942 to the motif: “Miss is looking for correspondence with a girlfriend under modern” and “Lady wants a girlfriend for the purpose of cinema and theatre”. Advertisements like these are testimonies to the few coded signs of lesbian subculture during the Nazi era. Terms such as “Miss”, “Girlfriend” and “Lady” served as lesbian identification codes, as did the colours lilac and violet. In doing so, the artist sensitively refers to issues such as political power structures, socially enforced expectations and the resulting subtlety of lesbian aesthetics.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Lena Rosa Händle (German, b. 1976) 'These hands – a world without equal' 2022

Lena Rosa Händle (German, b. 1976) 'These hands – a world without equal' 2022


Lena Rosa Händle (German, b. 1976)
These hands – a world without equal
Courtesy the artist


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism showing Wolfgang Tillmans’s photograph The Cock (Kiss) (2002, below)
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München


Wolfgang Tillmans (German, born 1968) 'The Cock (Kiss)' 2002


Wolfgang Tillmans (German, b. 1968)
The Cock (Kiss)
Courtesy Galerie Buchholz


El Palomar. 'Schreber is a Woman' 2020


El Palomar
Schreber is a Woman
Film still
© El Palomar



In their audiovisual piece Schreber is a Woman, the Barcelona-based artists’ collective El Palomar delves into the mind of Daniel Paul Schreber, a German lawyer (1842-1911) who became famous for his reports from a psychiatric clinic that later inspired Freud. In his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness from 1903 Schreber recounts feeling like a woman, among other experiences. The book influenced Sigmund Freud to elaborate his theories on paranoia and schizophrenia. Relevant to Schreber’s story is the fact that his father, Dr. Moritz Schreber, authored several books that proposed strict authoritarian models for the physical and moral education of children, which were very popular in Germany and other parts of Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century.

El Palomar uncover and reinterpret the writings of Schreber from a transfeminist perspective to deconstruct the Freudian link between Schreber and schizoprenic paranoia trough a queer viewpoint. Focusing on the images and sounds that Schreber describes in his memoirs, the film offers a rereading of the case as rooted in a period when gender identities were restricted to classical binary archetypes. Schreber is a Woman subverts the original circumstances of queer lineage, recontextualizing gender and pleasure in the present.

Anonymous. “Schreber is a Woman – Video Art on Queer and Trans History,” on the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism website Oct 7, 2022 [Online] Cited 10/04/2023


Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism

Installation view of the exhibition 'TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950' at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism


Installation view of the exhibition TO BE SEEN: Queer Lives 1900-1950 at the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism showing work from Philipp Gufler’s series Quilts, in the bottom image Quilt #43 (Sophia Goudstikker) (2021)
Photo: Connolly Weber Photography/NS-Dokumentationszentrum München


Philipp Gufler (German, b. 1989) 'Quilt #50 (Lil Picard)' 2022


Philipp Gufler (German, b. 1989)
Quilt #50 (Lil Picard)
Screenprint on fabric
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Françoise Heitsch
Photo: @frau_orla



In his quilts Philipp Gufler references queer artists, scholars, and places of queer life that have found little or no place in written memories and the historical canon. The series thus becomes an alternative archive that generates a form of intergenerational memory through the technique of “quilting.” In this technique the textiles left behind by deceased people are reassembled and contextualised. The fine materiality of the fabrics stands in direct contrast to the often massive, solid stone monuments of Western historiography. By reusing a variety of historical relics, he creates diverse personal and ancestral forms of memory of different origins. The choice of materials in the works is just as important as the choice of motifs and the associated stories that are told.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Zoltán Lesi (Hungarian, b. 1982) and Ricardo Portilho (Brazilian) In Frauenkleidung (In Women's Clothing) 2019


Zoltán Lesi (Hungarian, b. 1982) and Ricardo Portilho (Brazilian)
In Frauenkleidung (In Women’s Clothing)
Courtesy the artists and Edition Mosaik Salzburg
Foto: @frau_orla



The poetry collection “In Frauenkleidung” (In Women’s Clothing, above) is a joint work by the lyricist Zoltán Lesi and the designer Ricardo Portilho and is dedicated to the lives of intergender athletes in the early 1930s. In their book, both artists combine documentary language with historical photographs and newspaper clippings drawn from Lesi’s image archive, which has been in the making since 2017. The resulting surrealistic collage uses historical distance to question facts, construction, and truth in a humorous yet sensitive way.

Parallel to the publication, they have created the audio installation “Ein Sprung und der Hummer” (A Jump and the Lobster, below) which, in the form of a Dadaist assemblage inspired by Joseph Cornell, blurs the line between fiction and the documentation of the biographies of the athletes, contributing another layer to the narrative level of the book of poems.

Text from the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism Instagram page


Zoltán Lesi (Hungarian, b. 1982) and Ricardo Portilho (Brazilian) 'Ein Sprung und der Hummer' (A Jump and the Lobster) 2018/2022 (installation view)


Zoltán Lesi (Hungarian, b. 1982) and Ricardo Portilho (Brazilian)
Ein Sprung und der Hummer (A Jump and the Lobster) (installation view)
Courtesy the artists
Foto: @frau_orla


Zoltán Lesi (Hungarian, b. 1982) and Ricardo Portilho (Brazilian) 'Ein Sprung und der Hummer' (A Jump and The Lobster) 2018/2022

Zoltán Lesi (Hungarian, b. 1982) and Ricardo Portilho (Brazilian) 'Ein Sprung und der Hummer' (A Jump and The Lobster) 2018/2022


Zoltán Lesi (Hungarian, b. 1982) and Ricardo Portilho (Brazilian)
Ein Sprung und der Hummer (A Jump and The Lobster) (installation view)
Courtesy the artists
Foto: @frau_orla



Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism
Max-Mannheimer-Platz 1
80333 Munich
Phone: +49 (0)89 233-67000

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 7pm

Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism website


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Exhibition: ‘Femme Fatale: Gaze – Power – Gender’ at the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Exhibition dates: 9th Dec 2022 – 10th April 2023

Curator: Dr. Markus Bertsch



Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) 'Helen of Troy' 1863


Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
Helen of Troy
Oil on mahogany
32.8 x 27.7cm
© Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk
Foto: Elke Walford



What a fascinating and inspired concept for an exhibition!

In order to understand the myth and construction of the femme fatale stereotype the exhibition investigates, through art and representation, concepts such as sexuality and its demonisation, the male and female gaze, white ideals of beauty, racism, Orientalism, anti-Semitism, power relations, hate, non-binary gaze, gender roles, myth and religion and black feminism. Such areas of breath are needed to examine the myth of the femme fatale.

I just wish the media images had included some photographs from the interwar avant-garde period by photographers such as Claude Cahun, Dora Maar, Eva Besnyö, Ilse Bing, Lotte Jacobi, Yva, Grete Stern, Ellen Auerbach, Aenne Biermann and Florence Henri for example – all of whom photographed the “New Woman” of the 1920s, an image which embodied an ideal of female empowerment based on real women making revolutionary changes in life and art. I hope the exhibition contains images by some of these photographers.

“The femme fatale is a myth, a projection, a construction. She symbolises a visually coded female stereotype: the sensual, erotic and seductive woman whose allegedly demonic nature reveals itself in her ability to lure and enchant men – often leading to fatal results. It is this likewise dazzling and clichéd image, long dominated by a male and binary gaze, that is in the focus of the exhibition Femme Fatale. Gaze – Power – Gender at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Beyond exploring a range of artistic approaches to the theme from the early 19th century to the present, the show aims to critically examine the myth of the femme fatale in its genesis and historical transformation.” (Text from the Hamburger Kunsthalle website)

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. I have added further images and bibliographic information about the artists to the posting.

Many thankx to the Hamburger Kunsthalle for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


The male gaze places women in the context of male desire, essentially portraying the female body as eye candy for the heterosexual man. By valuing the desires of the male audience, the male gaze supports the self-objectification of women.

According to the Theory of Gender and Power (Robert Connell), the sexual division of power reproduces inequities in power between men and women which are maintained by social mechanisms such as the abuse of authority and control in relationships.



Femme Fatale


Page from Femme Fatale booklet


Pages from Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition Femme Fatale. Gaze – Power – Gender showing in the bottom posting, the room layout with sections to the exhibition



The femme fatale is a myth, a projection, a construction. She symbolises a visually coded female stereotype: the sensual, erotic and seductive woman whose allegedly demonic nature reveals itself in her ability to lure and enchant men – often leading to fatal results. It is this likewise dazzling and clichéd image, long dominated by a male and binary gaze, that is in the focus of the exhibition Femme Fatale. Gaze – Power – Gender at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Beyond exploring a range of artistic approaches to the theme from the early 19th century to the present, the show aims to critically examine the myth of the femme fatale in its genesis and historical transformation.

The “classical” image of the femme fatale feeds above all on biblical and mythological female figures such as Judith, Salome, Medusa or the Sirens, who were widely portrayed as calamitous women in art and literature between 1860 and 1920. Characteristic of the femme fatale figure is the demonisation of female sexuality associated with these narratives. Around 1900, the femme fatale image was frequently projected onto real people, mainly actors, dancers or artists such as Sarah Bernhardt, Alma Mahler or Anita Berber. What is striking here is the simultaneity of important achievements of women’s emancipation and the increased appearance of this male-dominated image of women. In the sense of a counter-image that playfully picks up on aspects of the femme fatale figure, the New Woman, an ideal emerging well into the 1920s, also becomes important for the exhibition. A decisive caesura was set in the 1960s by feminist artists concerned with deconstructing the myth of the femme fatale – along with the corresponding viewing habits and pictorial traditions. Current artistic positions, in turn, deal with traces and appropriations of the archetypic image or establish explicit counter-narratives – often with reference to the #MeToo movement, questions of gender identities, female corporeality and sexuality, and by addressing the topic of the male gaze.

To investigate the constellations of gaze, power and gender that are constitutive for the image of the femme fatale and its transformations over time, the exhibition has assembled around 200 exhibits spanning a broad range of media and periods. On display will be paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists (including Evelyn de Morgan, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John William Waterhouse) alongside Symbolist works (such as Fernand Khnopff, Gustave Moreau, Edvard Munch and Franz von Stuck), works of Impressionism (including Lovis Corinth, Max Liebermann, Édouard Manet, Max Slevogt), of Expressionism and New Objectivity (Dodo, Jeanne Mammen, Gerda Wegener, among others). The featured positions of the early feminist avant-garde (including VALIE EXPORT, Birgit Jürgenssen, Ketty La Rocca, Maria Lassnig, Betty Tompkins) along with current works based on queer and intersectional feminist perspectives (Nan Goldin, Mickalene Thomas, Zandile Tshabalala, among others), build a bridge all the way to the present.

Text from the Hamburger Kunsthalle website


Chapters of the exhibition


Carl Joseph Begas (1794-1854) 'Die Lureley' 1835


Carl Joseph Begas (German, 1794-1854)
Die Lureley
Oil on canvas
124.3 × 135.3cm
© Begas Haus – Museum für Kunst und Regionalgeschichte Heinsberg



Dangerous waters – Lorelei and her ‘fatal’ sisters

During the Romantic era, the element of water was often associated with the idea of dangerous femininity. The figure of Lorelei, in particular, was widely and diversely interpreted in numerous works of art, music and literature. Clemens Brentano laid the foundation for the legend of Lorelei with his ballad Zu Bacharach am Rheine…, written in 1801. Here, for the first time, a female figure was linked to the Lorelei – a large slate rock on the bank of the river Rhine that was known for producing an unusual echo. The broad popular appeal of this legend began with the publication of Heinrich Heine’s poem Die Lore-Ley in 1824 and continued to grow throughout the century. Although neither Brentano nor Heine stylised Lorelei as a femme fatale, many 19th-century artistic representations of this myth reduced the female figure to her siren-like, demonic qualities. The legend of Lorelei also has a remarkable resonance in contemporary art: in her video work “das Schöne muss sterben!”, for example, Gloria Zein transfers the narrative into the urban present, giving it an ironic twist and reflecting critically on the power of beauty; Aloys Rump traces the myth that surrounds this famous rock in the Rhine back to its material origins, exposing the Lorelei legend as pure invention and projection.


Aestheticized, demonized, sexualized: the femme fatale in the Victorian age

The 19th-century image of the femme fatale was largely shaped by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This group of English artists around Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones was founded in 1848. Drawing on ancient myths and works of English literature, the Pre-Raphaelites (as they were later known) established a very specific ideal of beauty. Their depictions above all featured female figures to whom destructive or even fatal qualities had traditionally been attributed, such as Lilith, Medea, Circe and Helen of Troy. The Pre-Raphaelites deliberately emphasised the contrast between the subjects’ mythological demonisation and their visualisation as sensual beings of ethereal beauty. Later artists who were influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites created increasingly eroticised depictions of women, portraying them as both an ideal and a vision of fear. John William Waterhouse’s painting of Circe, for example, explicitly links her power to her both enchantingly and threateningly seductive nature. John Collier’s highly sexualised interpretation of Lilith, meanwhile, presents the mythic figure primarily as an object of male desire. This white, Victorian ideal of femininity and beauty, along with its (re-)presentation in a museum context, is reflected by Sonia Boyce in her video installation Six Acts. This work emerged from a critical intervention she performed at Manchester Art Gallery in 2018.


Sexuality & Demonisation

The term femme fatale originally describes a sensual, erotically seductive woman who puts men in danger and plunges them into their misfortune – not seldom with deadly consequences. In his painting Lilith, John Collier also illustrated such a prototype of a femme fatale. Here, the woman’s body is excessively sexualised and her sexuality demonised. This narrative also suggests: a woman’s lust is something dangerous. Even today, women are often morally condemned when they live out their sexuality openly. How can that be? Female lust is declared taboo, while male lust is celebrated? That is indeed problematic. However: the figure of the femme fatale is by now often appropriated by women as an instrument for self-empowerment.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) 'Circe offering the cup to Ulysses' 1891


John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
Circe offering the cup to Ulysses
Oil on canvas
148 cm × 92cm
© Gallery Oldham



John William Waterhouse RA (6 April 1849 – 10 February 1917) was an English painter known for working first in the Academic style and for then embracing the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s style and subject matter. His artworks were known for their depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.

Born in Rome to English parents who were both painters, Waterhouse later moved to London, where he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art. He soon began exhibiting at their annual summer exhibitions, focusing on the creation of large canvas works depicting scenes from the daily life and mythology of ancient Greece. Many of his paintings are based on authors such as Homer, Ovid, Shakespeare, Tennyson, or Keats. Waterhouse’s work is displayed in many major art museums and galleries, and the Royal Academy of Art organised a major retrospective of his work in 2009.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Binarity: male & female gaze

What is the male gaze actually all about?

The male gaze refers to the concept of a predominant masculine perspective; it represents the systematic use of male control in our society and its impact on us. The term was coined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey who in the 1970s drew attention to how women in films were mostly portrayed as objects catering to the fantasies of heterosexual males. It was soon applied to other genres such as fashion, literature, music and art – and widely adopted in the everyday world. Whether in film, advertising, in novels, on the street, at school, during training or at university: the male gaze is omnipresent. It condemns, objectifies, defines standards and ideals, oppresses and classifies: male= active, female=passive. We all grew up with the phenomenon and are confronted with it on an everyday basis. As a result, all of us, including women and non-binary people, have more or less internalised it. Whether consciously or unconsciously, especially these groups tend to see themselves through a kind of mirror, anticipating the male gaze. But: understanding the male gaze also means being able to unlearn it.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


John Collier (English, 1850-1934) 'Lilith' 1887


John Collier (English, 1850-1934)
Oil on canvas
194 × 104cm (76 × 41 in)
Atkinson Art Gallery and Library, Southport, Merseyside, England
© The Atkinson
Public domain



Lilith is an 1889 painting by English artist John Collier, who worked in the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The painting of the Jewish mythic figure Lilith is held in the Atkinson Art Gallery in Southport, England. It was transferred from Bootle Art Gallery in the 1970s.

Collier portrayed Lilith as a golden-haired, porcelain-skinned beautiful nude woman who fondles on her shoulder the head of a serpent, coiled around her body in a passionate embrace. Against the background of a dark, brown-green jungle, stands a naked female figure, whose pale skin and long blond hair falling down her back form a stark contrast with the forest. The head position and gaze of Lilith are turned away from the viewer, concentrating on the snake’s head resting on her shoulder. The snake encircles her body in several coils, starting around its closely spaced ankles, past the knee, to her lower abdomen, where it thereby conceals. Lilith supports the snake’s body with her hands in the area of ​​her upper body, so that the snake’s head can lie over her right shoulder up to her throat. Lilith’s head is bent towards the snake, her cheek nestles against the animal. The brown tones of the snake’s body stand out in contrast with the pale woman’s body, but take up the colour scheme of the surrounding jungle. Collier presented his painting inspired by fellow painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1868 poem Lilith, or Body’s Beauty, which describes Lilith as the witch who loved Adam before Eve. Her magnificent tresses gave the world “its first gold,” but her beauty was a weapon and her charms deadly.

The magazine The British Architect described the work in 1887: “Here is a nude woman, whose voluptuous, round form is most gracefully represented, surrounded by a great serpent, the thickest part of which crosses it horizontally and cuts it in half; her head slides down her chest and she seems to be pulling it in tighter coils. The background is a coarse kind of green, repulsive and abominable.”

Text from the Wikipedia website


Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, London 1828 - 1882 Birchington-on-Sea) Henry Treffry Dunn (British, Truro 1838 - 1899 London) 'Lady Lilith' 1867


Dante Gabriel Rossetti (British, London 1828 – 1882 Birchington-on-Sea)
Henry Treffry Dunn (British, Truro 1838 – 1899 London)
Lady Lilith
Watercolour and gouache
20 3/16 X 17 5/16 in. (51.3 x 44cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1908
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



Fascinated by women’s physical allure, Rossetti here imagines a legendary femme fatale as a self-absorbed nineteenth-century beauty who combs her hair and seductively exposes her shoulders. Nearby flowers symbolise different kinds of love. In Jewish literature, the enchantress Lilith is described as Adam’s first wife, and her character is underscored by lines from Goethe’s Faust attached by Rossetti to the original frame, “Beware … for she excels all women in the magic of her locks, and when she twines them round a young man’s neck, she will not ever set him free again.” The artist’s mistress, Fanny Cornforth, is the sitter in this watercolour, which Rossetti and his assistant Dunn based on an oil of 1866 (Delaware Art Museum).

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website


Lady Lilith is an oil painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti first painted in 1866-1868 using his mistress Fanny Cornforth as the model, then altered in 1872-1873 to show the face of Alexa Wilding. The subject is Lilith, who was, according to ancient Judaic myth, “the first wife of Adam” and is associated with the seduction of men and the murder of children. She is shown as a “powerful and evil temptress” and as “an iconic, Amazon-like female with long, flowing hair.” …

A large 1867 replica of Lady Lilith, painted by Rossetti in watercolour, which shows the face of Cornforth, is now owned by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has a verse from Goethe’s Faust as translated by Shelley on a label attached by Rossetti to its frame:

“Beware of her fair hair, for she excels
All women in the magic of her locks,
And when she twines them round a young man’s neck
she will not ever set him free again.”

Text from the Wikipedia website


White Ideals (of Beauty)

Apparently, the ideal is the white woman. She is thought to be pure, innocent and therefore endearing. This racist idea reaches from colonial times all the way to the present day. In 2022 alone, it can be found in several social media trends. One of them is the clean girl look on TikTok.

But what is behind all this and who is the trend actually for? The clean girl aesthetic gone viral is rather minimalistic: simple clothes, subtle make-up with delicate lip gloss and small gold creole earrings. With this look, young women want to represent themselves as so-called “girl bosses”, meaning women who have everything under control. This, however, is no more than a male fantasy. It has nothing to do with real people. The clean girl image also reinforces perceptions of which kind of women are more socially accepted. Namely, those who, like the clean girl, have “smooth and porcelain-like skin”. This Eurocentric ideal of beauty can already be detected in the nineteenth-century work Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Lady Lilith‘s skin is ivory white; she is combing her hair smooth, which is still wavy at the hairline. In the clean girl look hair is also straight, usually tied into a tight braid or chignon. Curly hair is excluded – and along with it especially Black people with Afro hair. Their natural appearance is thus portrayed as dirty in contrast to the allegedly pure clean girl look – a racist narrative that continues to try to position Black women in particular as inferior in society. Whereas, some of those characteristics appearing in the clean girl look originally were appropriated from Black Culture and then minimised: big gold creoles and gel-combed hairdos are just two of many examples. The clean girls with the most TikTok views represent this kind of standard beauty: thin, white and wearing expensive clothes. On the social media schoolyard, they are the ones who are considered as cool. But what they are doing while they are at it is bowing to racist, classist ideals that need to be made visible and discussed.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Evelyn de Morgan (English, 1855-1919) 'Medea' Nd


Evelyn de Morgan (English, 1855-1919)
Oil on canvas
148 × 88cm
© Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead; Wirral Museums Service
Purchased 1927



Evelyn De Morgan (30 August 1855 – 2 May 1919), née Pickering, was an English painter associated early in her career with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, and working in a range of styles including Aestheticism and Symbolism. Her paintings are figural, foregrounding the female body through the use of spiritual, mythological, and allegorical themes. They rely on a range of metaphors (such as light and darkness, transformation, and bondage) to express what several scholars have identified as spiritualist and feminist content.

De Morgan boycotted the Royal Academy and signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage in 1889. Her later works also deal with the themes of war from a pacifist perspective, engaging with conflicts like the Second Boer War and World War I.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Gustave Moreau (1826-1898) 'Oedipus and the Sphinx' 1864


Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Oedipus and the Sphinx
Oil on canvas
206 x 104.8cm
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Bequest of William H. Herriman, 1920




Racism means that people are subjected to depreciation exclusion or even to experiencing violence due to their origin, skin colour or religion. Racism comes in many forms. There is, for example, anti-Muslim, anti-Black or anti-Asian racism which is particularly directed against these groups. While such group based hostility was formerly justified above all by the “wrong” religious affiliation, from the 16th century on, allegedly scientific explanations became established. People were divided into different “races” from the time white people started enslaving Black people to then exploit them for economic profit in the new colonies. Today, most people are aware that there is no such thing as different “human races”. Instead, it is the different “social background” or “culture” that now is often used as an argument to racially stigmatise people. The ‘others’ may be described as ‘primitive’ and ‘uncultivated’, sometimes exoticised or sexualised. Men are portrayed as libidinous, women as erotic and, quite often, as their victims. The Indian postcolonialism theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak critically pinpointed this colonial perspective with the sentence: “White men are saving brown women from brown men.” This ironic statement emphasises the sense of civilisational superiority of white colonisers who saw themselves as “saviours”, but often came to the country as rapists and, on top of that, oppressed the female population in their countries of origin.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Jean Delville (Belgian, 1867-1953) 'The Idol of Perversity' (L'idole de la perversite) 1891


Jean Delville (Belgian, 1867-1953)
The Idol of Perversity (L’idole de la perversite)



Jean Delville, The Idol of Perversity (L’idole de la perversite), 1891. Delville was a Belgian symbolist painter, author, poet and Theosophist, studying mystical and occultist philosophies. Such philosophies concentrate mainly on seeking the true origins of the universe, specifically of the divine and natural kind, believing that knowledge of ancient pasts offers a path to true enlightenment and salvation. Delville was the leading patron of Belgian Idealist movement, specifically in art circa the 1890s, having a belief system that upheld art to higher standards of substance, believing that it should express higher spiritual truth, based on principles of Ideal, or spiritual Beauty. …

The goal of the living body is to spiritualise itself and to refine our material selves, meaning to elevate ourselves to the level of not requiring or wanting things that are just of material value. Without a spiritual path or goal, men and women that walk the earth become slaves to their material possessions, forever destined to succumb to the desires, passions, greed, and egotistic need to always seek power over one another. Under this belief, the physical world we live in becomes the land of Satan, and those without a spiritual goal become merely his slaves. According to Delville, the first step to true enlightenment is to gain power over earthly temptations, such as promiscuity and erotic temptation. Truly enlightened soul is one that can use the power of his mind to rise above the temptations of, what was believed “unquenched bestial desires of a woman”. In late nineteenth century femme fatale embodied the kind of misogynistic idea that women were lower on the evolutionary scale, and female sex was that of animalistic, monstrous and aggressive, hence, the femme fatale characterisation, meaning that women’s grotesque sexual desires led men away from their spiritual goals, and thus driving them to live a life in sin, forever slaves to the Devil. In this painting Delville portrays the femme fatale as an almost demonic entity, with the bellow angel as to show her looming over the viewer, with an almost phallic snake, reminiscent of Franz von Stuck’s Sin, slithering between her pointed breasts. This image is a direct representation of Delville’s esoteric ideologies of material versus spiritual.

Art Universal. “Jean Delville, The Idol of Perversity (L’idole de la perversite), 1891,” on the Art Universal website August 8, 2017 [Online] Cited 03/03/2023


Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) 'Who Shall Deliver Me? (Christina Georgina Rossetti)' 1891


Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921)
Who Shall Deliver Me? (Christina Georgina Rossetti)
Conté pen and coloured pencil on paper
21.9 x 13cm
© The Hearn Family Trust



Enigmatic images – the femme fatale in Symbolist art

Fantastical scenarios, imaginary dream worlds and psychological depths are the defining characteristics of Symbolism, a cultural movement that flourished throughout Europe from the 1880s onwards. The image of the femme fatale is also omnipresent in Symbolist art, but in these depictions, the female subjects often have an enigmatic, other-worldly appearance and their meaning is ambiguous. As the epitome of the cliché of ‘female mystery’, the sphinx is a prominent motif in Symbolist art. The image of this malevolent creature – a hybrid of woman, lion and bird – was strongly influenced by Gustave Moreau’s Oedipus and the Sphinx, an important early work by the painter. Moreau’s orientalised and eroticised interpretation of Salome as an ornamental figure also shaped the perception of her as a femme fatale. A similar composition featuring a vision of John the Baptist’s floating head is found in Odilon Redon’s Apparition. His figures, however, are even further removed from objective representation and concrete corporeality. These kinds of mystifying depictions were also interpreted and elaborated by other Symbolist artists, above all in Belgium and the Netherlands. In Fernand Khnopff’s subtle drawings, the femme fatale appears as a mysterious, ambiguous projection, addressing the themes of stereotypical femininity and androgyny.


Focussing on the body – interpretations of the femme fatale in Munich

In contrast to the enigmatic dream worlds of French and Belgian Symbolism, the depictions of femmes fatales by artists of the Munich School focus more explicitly on women’s bodies. Carl Strathmann’s large-format interpretations of Gustave Flaubert’s historical novel Salammbô, which was frequently adapted in France, place the titular female figure in an ornamental Art Nouveau setting that is typical of the period. Franz von Stuck and Franz von Lenbach, on the other hand, focus on concrete physical realities; while their paintings are set in mythological and biblical contexts, they are mainly aimed at representing nudity. In Stuck’s interpretation of the Sphinx, for example, the subject is no longer depicted as a hybrid creature, but is a purely human, naked woman. Only the posture of the nude, who is reduced to her physicality and sensuality, recalls a sphinx. This kind of sexualization in images of femmes fatales often involves constructing a supposed ‘otherness’ of the depicted subject. Through the incorporation of orientalising elements and antisemitic attributions such as the stereotype of the ‘beautiful Jewess’, female subjects – above all Judith and Salome – are presented as alluring and desirable, but are at the same denigrated as ‘other’.



Turbans, veils, sabres, teacups, palm trees, colourful carpets and nude women in harems – this cliché-ridden image of the ‘Orient’ was spread in the West and was a major theme especially in nineteenth-century painting. In 1978, the Palestinian-American literature professor Edward Said published a book entitled Orientalism in which he characterised this image as a Western invention. By describing the ‘Orient’, meaning roughly those regions now called North Africa and the Near and Middle East, as ‘alien’ and ‘backward’, the West was able to present itself as culturally superior. This, at the same time, made it easier to justify imperialist ambitions to subjugate and exploit these regions. Orientalism has been typified by rejection and attraction alike: the people and customs of the region are portrayed as irrational, lazy and dishonest just as much as sensual, pleasure-oriented and seductive. A widespread symbol of this in painting was the figure of the “Odalisque”, a white slave girl, preferably drawn naked in the bath. She strikingly exemplifies the kind of fantasies that (mainly) white European men would live out in their depictions of the Orient: at once a ‘chaste’ victim of ‘Oriental’ tyrants and a ‘sinful’ seductress of Western conquerors. Many of these Orientalist clichés have survived to this day and can also be found, in anti-Muslim racisms, for example.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Bruno Piglhein (German, 1848-1894) 'Egyptian Sword Dancer' 1891


Bruno Piglhein (1848-1894)
Egyptian Sword Dancer
Oil on canvas
138 × 89cm
Private collection
© Courtesy Kunkel Fine Art, München


Franz Von Stuck (German, 1863-1928) 'Judith and Holofernes' 1926


Franz Von Stuck (German, 1863-1928)
Judith and Holofernes
Oil on canvas
157 × 83cm
Staatliche Schlösser, Gärten und Kunstsammlungen Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Schwerin
© Staatliche Schlösser, Gärten und Kunstsammlungen Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Staatliches Museum Schwerin
Foto: Elke Walford




The term anti-Semitism describes a hostile attitude towards Jews. It manifests itself in various forms, from prejudice, to insults, to violence. Anti-Semitism, which has existed for thousands of years, is the oldest known form of group-specific hatred of people, regardless of gender. Its worst manifestation was during German National Socialism under Adolf Hitler when over six million Jewish people were murdered between 1933 and 1945 in Europe. What distinguishes anti-Semitism from other forms of discrimination is the idea of a cultural and economic superiority of the group being attacked, unlike, for example, racism or Islamophobia, where the counterpart is usually devalued. Instead of labelling Jews as backward, in stereotypes they often appear as representatives of a modern and sophisticated worldview, which is, however, portrayed as ‘decadent’ and ‘threatening’. Conspiracy theories also often contain anti-Semitic elements, as it is imagined that all Jewish people are wealthy, influential and well-connected and thus able to act as secret ‘string-pullers’ in international affairs. Anti-Semitic prejudices often refer to categories such as wealth and power, sexuality or external characteristics.

Visually, anti-Semitic body stereotypes are sometimes expressed through the depiction of large, crooked noses (‘hooknose’), bulging lips, narrow eyes, hunched posture, bowlegs and flat feet. Somewhat more subtle, but no less problematic, is the stereotype of the “beautiful Jewess”. This cliché image from art and literature around 1900 often showed Jewish women as smart, beautiful and seductive, but at the same time marked them as ‘foreign’ and ‘different’, for example, based on orientalising elements such as jewellery, etc.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Antonin Idrac (French, 1849-1884) 'Salammbô' 1882


Antonin Idrac (French, 1849-1884)
Height: 182cm (71.6 in); width: 53 cm (20.8 in); depth: 71cm (27.9 in)
Musée des Augustins
Public domain


Carl Strathmann (German, 1866-1939) 'Salammbô' 1894


Carl Strathmann (German, 1866-1939)
Mixed media on canvas
187.5 x 287cm



Strathmann’s curious work occupies an intermediate position between the art of painting and the crafts. His paintings are strange concoctions studded with colored glass and artificial gems, foreshadowing similar extravagances by the Viennese Jugendstil painter Gustav Klimt. In Strathmann’s painting Salammbô, inspired by Flaubert’s novel, the Carthaginian temptress reclines on a carpet spread out on a flower-strewn meadow. Swathed in veils whose design is as complex as that of the harp beside her head, she submits to the kiss of the mighty snake that encircles her. Lovis Corinth described how Strathmann, while working on the large picture, gradually covered the originally nude model with “carpets and fantastic garments of his own invention so that in the end only a mystical profile and the fingers of one hand protruded from a jumble of embellished textiles. … coloured stones are sparkling everywhere; the harp especially is aglitter with fake jewels.” According to Corinth, Strathmann knew “how to glue and sew” these on the canvas “with admirable skill.”

Anonymous. “Carl Strathmann, Salammbô,” on the Dark Classics website 12/05/2011 [Online] Cited 01/03/2023


Arnold Böcklin (Swiss, 1827-1901) 'Sirens' 1875


Arnold Böcklin (Swiss, 1827-1901)
Tempera on canvas
Height: 46cm (18.1 in); width: 31cm (12.2 in)
Alte Nationalgalerie
Public domain



Arnold Böcklin (16 October 1827 – 16 January 1901) was a Swiss symbolist painter. …

Influenced by Romanticism, Böcklin’s symbolist use of imagery derived from mythology and legend often overlapped with the aesthetic of the Pre-Raphaelites. Many of his paintings are imaginative interpretations of the classical world, or portray mythological subjects in settings involving classical architecture, often allegorically exploring death and mortality in the context of a strange, fantasy world.

Böcklin is best known for his five versions (painted 1880 to 1886) of the Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, which was close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried. An early version of the painting was commissioned by a Madame Berna, a widow who wanted a painting with a dreamlike atmosphere.

Clement Greenberg wrote in 1947 that Böcklin’s work “is one of the most consummate expressions of all that is now disliked about the latter half of the nineteenth century.”

Text from the Wikipedia website


Franz Von Stuck (1863-1928) 'Sphinx' 1904


Franz Von Stuck (German, 1863-1928)
Oil on canvas
83 × 156.5cm
© Loan from the Federal Republic of Germany as a permanent loan to the Hessian State Museum in Darmstadt
Foto: Wolfgang Fuhrmannek, HLMD



Franz Ritter von Stuck (February 23, 1863 – August 30, 1928), born Franz Stuck, was a German painter, sculptor, printmaker, and architect. Stuck was best known for his paintings of ancient mythology, receiving substantial critical acclaim with The Sin in 1892. In 1906, Stuck was awarded the Order of Merit of the Bavarian Crown and was henceforth known as Ritter von Stuck. …

Stuck’s subject matter was primarily from mythology, inspired by the work of Arnold Böcklin. Large forms dominate most of his paintings and indicate his proclivities for sculpture. His seductive female nudes are a prime example of popular Symbolist content. Stuck paid much attention to the frames for his paintings and generally designed them himself with such careful use of panels, gilt carving and inscriptions that the frames must be considered as an integral part of the overall piece.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Gustav Adolf Mossa (1883–1971) 'The Satiated Siren' (Die gesättigte Sirene) 1905


Gustav Adolf Mossa (French, 1883-1971)
The Satiated Siren (Die gesättigte Sirene)
Oil on canvas
81 × 54cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nizza
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022
Foto: Michel Graniou



Gustav-Adolf Mossa (28 January 1883 – 25 May 1971) was a French illustrator, playwright, essayist, curator and late Symbolist painter. …

Symbolist paintings

Mossa’s decade long Symbolist period (1900-1911) was his most prolific and began as a reaction to the recent boom of socialite leisure activity on the French Rivera, his works comically satirising or condemning what was viewed as an increasingly materialistic society and the perceived danger of the emerging New Woman at the turn of the century, whom Mossa appears to consider perverse by nature.

His most common subjects were femme fatale figures, some from Biblical sources, such as modernised versions of Judith, Delilah and Salome, mythological creatures such as Harpies or more contemporary and urban figures, such as his towering and dominant bourgeoise woman in Woman of Fashion and Jockey. (1906). His 1905 work Elle, the logo for the 2017 Geschlechterkampf exhibition on representations of gender in art, is an explicit example of Mossa’s interpretation of malevolent female sexuality, with a nude giantess sitting atop a pile of bloodied corpses, a fanged cat sitting over her crotch, and wearing an elaborate headress inscribed with the Latin hoc volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas (What I want, I order, my will is reason enough).

Many aspects of Mossa’s paintings of this period were also indictive of the decadent movement, with his references to Diabolism, depictions of lesbianism (such as his two paintings of Sappho), or an emphasis on violent, sadistic or morbid scenes.

Though these paintings are the subject of most present day exhibitions, scholarly articles and books on the artist, they were not released to the public until after Mossa’s death in 1971.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Inverted images – the femme fatale turns grotesque

In the late 19th century, artists began using exaggeration and caricature to highlight the grotesque, bizarre and absurd qualities of the femme fatale motif, suggesting that the traditional image of the wickedly seductive enchantress had become redundant. While these inverted images of the femme fatale illustrate the constructed nature of this concept, they in turn employ clichés of demonic femininity. Arnold Böcklin gives an ironic, grotesque twist to a popular artistic motif in his painting Sirens, where the typically emphasised seductiveness of the hybrid creatures appears to have the opposite effect. In Gustav-Adolf Mossa’s The Satiated Siren, meanwhile, the siren’s outstanding feature is her bloodthirsty instinct. In Carl Strathmann’s almost humorously exaggerated depiction of the Head of Medusa, on the other hand, Medusa’s petrifying gaze is no longer intended to shock the viewer. Although ancient myths still provided the subject matter for these interpretations, they were increasingly losing their exemplary function and could often only be transposed to the present in a grotesque guise. Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations after Oscar Wilde’s play Salome (1893) were highly influential; while these also contained some vividly macabre motifs, the unmistakable ornamental aesthetic of defined lines and flat spatial planes made them appear less frightening.


Carl Strathmann (German, 1866-1939) 'Head of Medusa' c. 1897


Carl Strathmann (German, 1866-1939)
Head of Medusa
c. 1897
Watercolour and ink
69.8 cm x 69.5cm
Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung
CC BY-SA 4.0



Carl Strathmann (11 September 1866, Düsseldorf – 29 July 1939, Munich) was a German painter in the Art Nouveau and Symbolist styles.

His father, also named Carl Strathmann, was a merchant and manufacturer, who later served as consul in Chile. His mother, Alice, was originally from Huddersfield, England, and was an art enthusiast. From 1882 to 1886, he studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, with Hugo Crola, Heinrich Lauenstein and Adolf Schill. After being dismissed for a “lack of talent”, he enrolled at the Grand-Ducal Saxon Art School, Weimar where, from 1888 to 1889, he studied in the master class taught by Leopold von Kalckreuth.

When Kalckreuth left, he did as well; moving to Munich, where he lived a Bohemian lifestyle as a free-lance artist, and met the painter Lovis Corinth, who became a lifelong friend and associate. In 1894, he painted one of his best known works: “Salammbô”, inspired by a novel of the same name by Gustave Flaubert. In this monumental painting (6 x 9 feet) Salammbô, a high priestess of the Carthaginians, is shown caressing a snake, as part of a ritual sacrifice. Many were horrified, calling it a “sadistic fantasy”. The scandal made him immediately famous.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'The Toilette of Salome' (second version) 1893


Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
The Toilette of Salome (second version)

Please note: This drawing may not be in the exhibition but Beardsley’s drawings of Salome are mentioned in the exhibition text (below)


Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan' 1892-3


Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan

Please note: This drawing may not be in the exhibition but Beardsley’s drawings of Salome are mentioned in the exhibition text (below)


Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898) 'John and Salome' 1893


Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-1898)
John and Salome

Please note: This drawing may not be in the exhibition but Beardsley’s drawings of Salome are mentioned in the exhibition text (below)


Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Madonna' 1895


Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Oil on canvas
90 × 71cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle, permanent loan of the Stiftung Hamburger Kunstsammlungen, acquired 1957
© SHK / Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk
Public domain


Edvard Munch (1863-1944) 'Vampire in the forest' 1916-1918


Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Vampire in the forest
Oil on canvas
150 × 137cm
Munch Museet, Oslo
© Munchmuseet



Femme fatale, saint and vampire – the elevation and denigration of women in the art of Edvard Munch

Among the many images of the femme fatale that were created around 1900, Edvard Munch’s ambiguous, both positively and negatively connoted female figures occupy a place of their own. Existential questions and universal themes such as life, death, love, loss and grief are central to Munch’s art. Women are omnipresent in his compositions, appearing in a variety of roles and stereotypical depictions; at the same time, they are inseparably linked to the artist’s personal experience of life and love. The transfiguration of this experience often leads to the opposite extreme. Munch’s painting Madonna illustrates the contradictory aspects of his image of women: the depicted subject can be interpreted as a lustful femme fatale or as a saintly figure. The relationship and tension between the sexes is another leitmotif in Munch’s art. This is illustrated by his painting Vampire in the Forest, which leaves the viewer in doubt as to whether the depicted female figure is a loving woman or a bloodthirsty creature. Demonisations of femininity and female sexuality that threaten male existence appear throughout Munch’s oeuvre. They are as much an expression of his fears as of his self-stylisation as a victim – and once again reveal Munch’s image of the femme fatale to be a misogynistic projection.


Impressionist digressions – staged presentations from the theatrical to the nude

The theme of the femme fatale is even addressed in Impressionist art, which aimed to create immediate and realistic depictions rather than idealised representations. Here, however, the image was presented in very different ways. Lovis Corinth’s stage-like scenario shows a dramatically made-up, bare-breasted Salome bending over the head of John the Baptist. The abysmal aspect of her power is visualised above all through the sexualization of her body. The female figures in Max Liebermann’s interpretations of the biblical theme of Samson and Delilah, on the other hand, are far less eroticised. The choice of this subject – an unusual one for the artist – reveals his awareness of the popularity of the femme fatale motif. The lack of historicising details and focus on the strength of the austere-looking female figures, however, situate Liebermann’s stark images more decisively in the present than those of Corinth. The French sculptor Auguste Rodin also portrayed a femme fatale figure – but was evidently using this theme as a justification for an explicit nude. In his drawing, which takes its title from Gustave Flaubert’s novel Salammbô, the female subject is reduced to her sex: the reference to the fictional character is, therefore, merely a pretext.


Power Relations

Smash the Patriarchy! Free the Nipple!

Women and many non-binary people are confronted with various dress codes and rules of conduct in their everyday lives. The skirt should not be too short. Breastfeeding in public is taboo. A woman has to wear a bra in the office, otherwise there may be professional consequences. Above all, bodies perceived as female are being eroticised. The Free the Nipple movement is fighting against this. It’s a matter of choice: whether it’s a long or short skirt, bra or not – everyone decides for themselves. The breast perceived as female is also censored in social media.

The Free the Nipple movement has been criticised for not paying enough attention to the nuances concerning Black people and People of colour, for not pursuing an intersectional approach, but rather for primarily reflecting a white feminism.

Fighting for Female Freedom

In Spain, it was decided in May 2022 that catcalling should be banned. Catcalling? Many women experience obtrusive looks, being whistled at or hearing disrespectful comments about their appearance on the streets every day. Verbal sexual harassment is harmful and leaves its mark. Yet it still is often presented as an alleged compliment, also in films. In the 1968 performance Tapp- und Tastkino (Tap and Touch Cinema), VALIE EXPORT strapped a ‘scaled-down cinema’ in front of her bare chest. Passers-by had ‘public access’ for thirty seconds at a time during which they were allowed to touch her breasts. Interestingly, it was not VALIE EXPORT and her (upper) body that were thus exposed, but rather the passers-by who accepted this offer in public. Who is being embarrassed here and who is a voyeur? How are power and gaze relationships reversed here?

The Bechdel Test was introduced in 1985 by writer and cartoonist Alison Bechdel, namely with her comic dykes to watch out for. The test focuses on the stereotyping of women in film has only three rules:

1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something other than a man.

Pretty simple criteria that don’t say much about whether a film is sexist!? Yet many films do not fulfil the criteria of the Bechdel Test.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Valie Export (Austrian, b. 1940) 'Tapp und Tastkino' / 'Tap and Touch Cinema' (detail) 1968


VALIE EXPORT (Austrian, b. 1940)
Tapp- und Tastkino (Tap and Touch Cinema)
Video: Digibeta PAL, B/W, Sound, 1:08 min
© VALIE EXPORT / Courtesy Electric Arts Intermix (EAI), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 / SAMMLUNG VERBUND, Wien


Otto Greiner (German, 1869-1916) 'The Devil Showing Woman to the People' 1898


Otto Greiner (German, 1869-1916)
The Devil Showing Woman to the People
From the five-part series Of Woman
Pen lithograph
70 × 55 cm
Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig
© bpk / Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig
Public domain



Otto Greiner (16 December 1869 – 24 September 1916) was a German painter and graphic artist. He was born in Leipzig and began his career there as a lithographer and engraver. He relocated to Munich around 1888 and studied there under Alexander Liezen-Mayer. Greiner’s mature style – characterised by unexpected spatial juxtapositions and a sharply focused, photographic naturalism – was strongly influenced by the work of Max Klinger, whom he met in 1891 while visiting Rome.


Where Does All the Hate Come From?


Misogyny is an attitude that refers to hatred of women (Ancient Greek: misos = hate, gyne = woman). It has existed for thousands of years all over the world. It can be seen in many historical works of art, in the extermination fantasies of Otto Greiner, for example, but also in our modern times. Since the emergence of the internet, misogyny has also increasingly manifested itself in the digital space, where people perceived as female are many times more likely than people perceived as male to be targeted, sexualised and threatened.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Otto Greiner (German, 1869-1916) 'The Mortar' 1900


Otto Greiner (German, 1869-1916)
The Mortar
From the five-part series Of Woman
Pen lithograph, crimson print
62 × 46cm
Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig
© bpk / Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig


Lovis Corinth (1858-1925) 'Salome II' 1899/1900


Lovis Corinth (German, 1858-1925)
Salome II
Oil on canvas
127 × 147cm
Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig
© bpk / Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig / Ursula Gerstenberger



Lovis Corinth (21 July 1858 – 17 July 1925) was a German artist and writer whose mature work as a painter and printmaker realised a synthesis of impressionism and expressionism.

Corinth studied in Paris and Munich, joined the Berlin Secession group, later succeeding Max Liebermann as the group’s president. His early work was naturalistic in approach. Corinth was initially antagonistic towards the expressionist movement, but after a stroke in 1911 his style loosened and took on many expressionistic qualities. His use of colour became more vibrant, and he created portraits and landscapes of extraordinary vitality and power. Corinth’s subject matter also included nudes and biblical scenes.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Max Liebermann (1847-1935) 'Samson and Delila' 1902


Max Liebermann (German, 1847-1935)
Samson and Delila
Oil on canvas
151.2 x 212cm
© Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main



Max Liebermann (20 July 1847 – 8 February 1935) was a German painter and printmaker, and one of the leading proponents of Impressionism in Germany and continental Europe. In addition to his activity as an artist, he also assembled an important collection of French Impressionist works.

The son of a Jewish banker, Liebermann studied art in Weimar, Paris, and the Netherlands. After living and working for some time in Munich, he returned to Berlin in 1884, where he remained for the rest of his life. He later chose scenes of the bourgeoisie, as well as aspects of his garden near Lake Wannsee, as motifs for his paintings. Noted for his portraits, he did more than 200 commissioned ones over the years, including of Albert Einstein and Paul von Hindenburg.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Becoming femme fatale: between projection and self-presentation

In the period around 1900, the image of the femme fatale was increasingly projected onto real people. A cult of female actors, dancers and artists emerged, above all in cities such as Paris, Vienna and Berlin. Femmes fatales were now also situated in the realm of theatre, cinema and variety entertainment. Male projection and active self-presentation both played their part in this development, and particular modern media served to disseminate corresponding depictions of women: Alfons Mucha’s posters of Sarah Bernhardt contributed significantly to the fact that in public perception, the image of Bernhardt as a person gradually merged with her theatrical roles – although the actress herself also cultivated her reputation as an eccentric figure. In the same way, many people in the public eye used the medium of photography to increase their popularity. Portrait photographs taken by Madame d’Ora, for example, were used to publicise Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste’s scandal-ridden show Dances of Vice, Horror and Ecstasy. The composer Alma Mahler was also among those who had their portraits taken at Atelier d’Ora. Her reputation as a femme fatale was, however, mainly shaped by Oskar Kokoschka. The painter developed an obsessive desire for Mahler during their affair and at the same time stylised her as a disastrous, destructive force – a demonisation that reached its climax in the destruction of a life-size fetish doll he had commissioned in his ex-lover’s likeness.


Madame d'Ora (Atelier d'Ora) 'Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste' 1922


Madame d’Ora (Atelier d’Ora)
Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste
From “The Dances of Vice, Horror and Ecstasy”

Dora Kallmus (Madame d’Ora) (Austrian, 1881-1963), Arthur Benda (German, 1885-1969)
Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste in their dance Märtyrer [Martyrs]
Gelatin silver print
Albertina, Vienna



Dora Philippine Kallmus (20 March 1881 – 28 October 1963), also known as Madame D’Ora or Madame d’Ora, was an Austrian fashion and portrait photographer.

In 1907, she established her own studio with Arthur Benda in Vienna called the Atelier d’Ora or Madame D’Ora-Benda. The name was based on the pseudonym “Madame d’Ora”, which she used professionally. D’ora and Benda operated a summer studio from 1921 to 1926 in Karlsbad, Germany, and opened another gallery in Paris in 1925. She was represented by Schostal Photo Agency (Agentur Schostal) and it was her intervention that saved the agency’s owner after his arrest by the Nazis, enabling him to flee to Paris from Vienna.

Her subjects included Josephine Baker, Coco Chanel, Tamara de Lempicka, Alban Berg, Maurice Chevalier, Colette, and other dancers, actors, painters, and writers.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Arthur Benda (23 March 1885, in Berlin – 7 September 1969, in Vienna) was a German photographer. From 1907 to 1938 he worked in the photo studio d’Ora in Vienna, from 1921 as a partner of Dora Kallmus and from 1927 under the name d’Ora-Benda as the sole owner. …

In 1906, Arthur Benda met photographer Dora Kallmus, who also trained with Perscheid. When she opened the Atelier d’Ora on Wipplingerstrasse in Vienna in 1907, Benda became her assistant. The Atelier d’Ora specialised in portrait and fashion photography. Kallmus and Benda quickly made a name for themselves and soon supplied the most important magazines. The peak of renown was reached when Madame d’Ora photographed the present nobility in 1916 on the occasion of the coronation of Emperor Charles I as King of Hungary.

In 1921, Arthur Benda became a partner in Atelier d’Ora, which also ran a branch in Karlovy Vary during the season. In 1927 Arthur Benda took over the studio of Dora Kallmus, who had run a second studio in Paris since 1925, and continued it under the name d’Ora-Benda together with his wife Hanny Mittler. In addition to portraits, he mainly photographed nudes that made the new company name known in men’s magazines worldwide. A major order from the King of Albania Zogu I, who had himself and his family photographed in 1937 for three weeks by Arthur Benda in Tirana secured Arthur Benda financially. In 1938 he opened a new studio at the Kärntnerring in Vienna, which he continued to operate under his own name after the Second World War.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Anita Berber (10 June 1899 – 10 November 1928) was a German dancer, actress, and writer who was the subject of an Otto Dix painting. She lived during the time of the Weimar Republic. …

Her hair was cut fashionably into a short bob and was frequently bright red, as in 1925 when the German painter Otto Dix painted a portrait of her, titled “The Dancer Anita Berber”. Her dancer friend and sometime lover Sebastian Droste, who performed in the film Algol (1920), was skinny and had black hair with gelled up curls much like sideburns. Neither of them wore much more than low slung loincloths and Anita occasionally a corsage worn well below her small breasts.

Her performances broke boundaries with their androgyny and total nudity, but it was her public appearances that really challenged taboos. Berber’s overt drug addiction and bisexuality were matters of public chatter. In addition to her addiction to cocaine, opium and morphine, one of Berber’s favourites was chloroform and ether mixed in a bowl. This would be stirred with a white rose, the petals of which she would then eat.

Aside from her addiction to narcotic drugs, she was also a heavy alcoholic. In 1928, at the age of 29, she suddenly gave up alcohol completely, but died later the same year. She was said to be surrounded by empty morphine syringes.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Anita Berber (1899-1928), and to a lesser extent her husband / dance partner Sebastian Droste (1892-1927), have come to epitomise the decadence within Weimar era Berlin, their colourful personal lives overshadowing to a large extent their careers in dance, film and literature. Yet the couple’s daring and provocative performances are being re-assessed within the history of the development of expressive dance, and their extraordinary book ‘Tänze des Lasters, des Grauens und der Ekstase’ (‘Dances of Vice, Horror and Ecstasy’-1922), is a ‘gesamkunstwerk’ (total work of art) of Expressionist ideology largely unrecognised outside a devoted cult following.

The book

Berber and Droste chose to express themselves almost exclusively through the Expressionist / Modernist ethos, which was in itself filtered through the angst of Germany during the Weimar period.

Expressionism had been in existence before Weimar and, like many art movements, it had no formal beginnings, as opposed to a ‘school’ of artists who might band together under a common technique. It was fundamentally a reaction against the Impressionists who were seen by the Modernists as merely portrayers of ‘reality’ but who had failed to add anything of the artists own interior processes such as intuition, imagination and dream. This new wave of artists found inspiration in painters such as Van Gogh and Matisse but also drew from writers such as Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and the Symbolists, together with the philosophy of Nietzsche and Freudian psychology.

Expressionists believed the artist should utilise “what he perceives with his innermost senses, it is the expression of his being; all that is transitory for him is only a symbolic image; his own life is his most important consideration. What the outside world imprints on him, he expresses within himself. He conveys his visions, his inner landscape and is conveyed by them”. Herwert Walden: Erster Deutscher Herbstsalaon (1913).

The image is the poem as portrayed in the book by D’Ora. Interestingly, it is doubted whether the dance was performed (at least in Vienna) topless. Once again, this would indicate that the book is to be considered as its own specific entity. The poems cite their inspirations: artists Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Matthias Grünewald and authors lsuch as Villiers De L’Isle Adam, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Verlaine, E.T.A. Hoffman and Hanns Heinz Ewers.

Lapetitemelancolie. “Madame d’ora – photography for Dances of Vice, Horror, & Ecstasy written and danced, by Anita Berber & Sebastian Droste, 1923,” on the La Petite Melancolie website 14/09/2015 [Online] Cited 01/03/2023


Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976) 'Man and Medusa' 1910-1914


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
Man and Medusa
Watercolour, pencil and ink drawing
24.7 x 21cm
Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022
Reproduction: Dorin Alexandru Ionita, Berlin



The New Woman – a counter-image to the femme fatale?

Strongly influenced by their experiences during the First World War, the artists associated with the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement focused on present-day themes and realities. Their works reflected a changing society and a new relationship between the sexes: women were no longer only active in the domestic roles of wife and mother, but were now also participating in political and social life outside the home, wearing clothes that would traditionally be read as masculine, and pursuing careers – as artists and office workers, but also as revue dancers, waitresses or sex workers. With their bobbed hair, painted red lips, trouser suits, hats and cigarettes, they represented a new ideal: the New Woman. The image of the New Woman was omnipresent in illustrated women’s magazines and satirical journals of the time. The artist Jeanne Mammen, whose early work was greatly inspired by Symbolism, articulated women’s growing self-awareness and a new understanding of sexuality and gender in her paintings, while Gerda Wegener’s portraits of Lili Elbe drew attention to the existence of gender identities beyond the binarism of male and female. The motif of the femme fatale was now countered by a contemporary, emancipated ideal of womanhood that replaced traditional gender roles and stereotypes.


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976) 'She represents!' 1928


Jeanne Mammen (German, 1890-1976)
She represents!
(In: Simplicissimus, 32, Nr. 47)
Three-colour print on paper
38.5 × 28cm
Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin, Jeanne Mammen Stiftung
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022
Reproduction: Mathias Schormann



Fatale styles

Garçonne style

Black top hat slanting one way, cigarette slanting the other, red lips, short hair, men’s suit, challenging pose: this is how Berlin artist Jeanne Mammen saw the “New Woman” in the wild 1920s, the “garçonne” (feminine form of the French “garçon”, boy). She got rid of the corset, and with it the expectations of how women should dress or behave.


Snakes are the perfect accessory to signal danger and seduction at the same time. Pure sex appeal! Remember: in the Bible, it is the nasty snake that persuades Eve to nibble from the tree of knowledge, and afterwards Adam and Eve are suddenly ashamed of being naked but also find it somehow exciting … Women are called snakes when they are considered manipulative and use their sex appeal to seduce men who supposedly don’t really want that. The combination of the naked female figure and snakes is particularly popular in the 19th century, when women had hardly any social power or status, but started rebelling against that. Strange coincidence, isn’t it?

Long flowing hair

Long Flowing Hair is considered a symbol of absolute femininity and seduction par excellence in nineteenth-century paintings. If it is shaggy or even made of snakes (beware: Medusa head!), this is supposed to indicate that its wearer is morally depraved. Conversely, in the twentieth century, short hair usually stands for emancipation from outdated gender images and for a free, sometimes queer sexuality.


“Women see themselves being looked at,” wrote the English art critic John Berger. Women looking at themselves (narcissistically) in the mirror in paintings are meant to prove the vanity of the female sex. Yet these paintings rather prove the dominance of the male gaze that turns women into objects through its constant scrutiny or even surveillance. Some say that the mirror in the paintings has now been replaced by computer or smartphone screens, in which especially women are reflected for the male gaze on social media. Do you see it that way too?

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Franz von Lenbach (German, 1836-1904) 'Serpent Queen' 1894


Franz von Lenbach (German, 1836-1904)
Serpent Queen
Oil on canvas
123 × 106cm
Kunstsammlung Züll, Sankt Augustin
© Kunstsammlung Züll, Sankt Augustin


Gerda Wegener. 'Lili Elbe' c. 1928


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1886-1940)
Lili Elbe
c. 1928

Please note: This watercolour may not be in the exhibition but Wegener’s paintings are mentioned in the exhibition text (above)


Gerda Wegener. 'Lili with a Feather Fan' 1920


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1886-1940)
Lili with a Feather Fan

Please note: This art work may not be in the exhibition but Wegener’s paintings are mentioned in the exhibition text (above)


Gerda Wegener. 'Queen of Hearts (Lili)' 1928


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Queen of Hearts (Lili)

Please note: This art work may not be in the exhibition but Wegener’s paintings are mentioned in the exhibition text (above)


Sylvia Sleigh (1916-2010) 'Lilith' 1967


Sylvia Sleigh (1916-2010)
Acrylic on canvas
274.6 × 152.4cm
Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, New Jersey
© Estate of Sylvia Sleigh
Foto: Karen Mauch Photography/Rowan University Art Gallery



Is There such a Thing as a non-binary Gaze?

The non-binary gaze does not exist! As long as we are living in a society dominated by men, there can be no non-binary gaze. Because it is not our own gender identity that decides how we look at others, but the system in which we live. And that, all over the world, is still patriarchy. So as long as we are living in social structures in which humanity is divided binarily into male and female, we cannot escape this gaze. For this, it does not matter where on the gender scale we locate ourselves, whether we characterise ourselves as male, female, non-binary or whatever. To have a female gaze, we would have to live in matriarchy. Therefore, under the global domination of male capitalist structures, there can be no queer, no trans (siehe LGBTQIA), no Black Gaze, because all these identities continue to be marginalised and discriminated against. Gazes, especially in art, are always connected with power, with external determinations, with conditioning. There can be no non-binary gaze for the sole reason that it would not classify living beings into different sexes, would not categorise them. In the required non-binary form of society – which would be interested in the equality of the different – this form of exercising power would not even exist.

But there would still be gazing wouldn’t there? Or does it mean that for that reason alone there can be no non-binary gaze?

The non-binary gaze is the future!

The male gaze divides people into men and women, into those who look and those who are looked at, into the active and the passive, into subjects and objects. The non-binary gaze abolishes “gender” as a distinguishing feature altogether because it has no interest in this type of category. Neither living beings nor anything else like colours, styles or smells are assigned to a single gender, but exist only for and from themselves. Individual features such as lipstick, stubble or breasts are not read as indicators of gender, but are perceived impartially and without this filter in their specific properties, such as shape, colour, structure etc. Therefore, this gaze does not exert any power, because it does not classify and evaluate what is being looked at into any existing categories. It does not look from top to bottom, not from bottom to top, not at individual parts or the overall view, but it does all this simultaneously with everyone, the gazers as well as those gazed at. The non-binary gaze has the power to destabilise our entire world order, because qualities and characteristics can now be perceived in a completely new way, without prejudices and evaluations. For this concerns not only human bodies but all forms of being that we can imagine.

Actually, it is interesting that we not only classify people, but also, for example, shapes – angular vs round – or smells – tart vs sweet – according to gender.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Maria Lassnig (1919-2014) 'Woman Power' 1979


Maria Lassnig (1919-2014)
Woman Power
Oil on canvas
182 x 126cm
Albertina Wien – The ESSL Collection
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022
Foto: Peter Kainz



Deconstructing, appropriating and retelling: abolishing the image of the femme fatale

The fight against the traditional image of the femme fatale began at the latest with the emergence of feminist art in the 1960s: feminist avant-garde artists challenged such outdated notions of women and began creating their own new narratives of femininity, sexuality and physicality. Self-portraiture and self-presentation, especially in the medium of photography, takes on a particular significance in the creation of self-empowering images of one’s own body. Female artists find many different ways to deal with the clichéd image of the femme fatale. Deconstructive approaches by artists such as Ketty La Rocca have contributed a great deal to dismantling this image, as have ironic and subversive appropriations by the likes of Birgit Jürgenssen. Other female artists reimagine the mythological figures who were long depicted as femmes fatales, presenting them, as Francesca Woodman did, in subtly restaged scenarios; depicting them as powerful goddesses – as seen, for example, in the works of Mary Beth Edelson; or, like Sylvia Sleigh, situating them outside the boundary of binary gender. Arresting representations of female corporeality, meanwhile, such as those created by Maria Lassnig and Dorothy Iannone, provide positive images that leave the narrative of demonic, deadly female sexuality far behind them.


Gender & Role Clichés

What does gender mean?

Gender describes the social, lived, perceived sex of a person. Gender is an English term, but is also used in German, precisely when it comes to social characteristics and gender identity. Gender is not limited to what is assigned to us at birth on the basis of physical characteristics (sex) but rather refers to socially constructed attributes, opportunities and relationships.

The teacher who says to you: “Well, your handwriting doesn’t look like that of a girl.” The colour pink is for girls and women, just like dresses and skirts; the colour blue and trousers are for boys and men. The latter should not cry, that would be weak. So, better for them to suppress their feelings? But then there is the saying “Boys will be boys”, meaning that’s just the way they all are. Boys are seen as wild and rebellious, girls as calm and understanding. But these are not biological traits; it’s the way we were brought up in a system of patriarchy. So, boys are allowed to get away with more, while girls are expected to put up with a lot of things. Role stereotypes hurt and reduce us all and press us into categories. Because they say: all people in a group should behave in the same way – which is pretty absurd.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Francesca Woodman. 'Untitled, 1975-1980' 1975-1980


Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
Untitled, 1975-1980
Gelatin silver print

Please note: This image may not be in the exhibition but Woodman’s photographs are mentioned in the exhibition text (above)


Francesca Woodman. 'House #4', Providence, Rhode Island, 1976


Francesca Woodman (American, 1958-1981)
House #4
Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Gelatin silver print

Please note: This image may not be in the exhibition but Woodman’s photographs are mentioned in the exhibition text (above)


Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953) 'C performing as Madonna, Bangkok' 1992


Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953)
C performing as Madonna, Bangkok
Archival pigment print, ed. #2/25
76.2 × 114.3cm
Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
© Nan Goldin



The varied afterlife of the femme fatale: contemporary (counter-)images

Nowadays there is no single, unambiguous vision of the femme fatale, and the counter-images are equally multifaceted. Artists examine traces of the clichéd concept, explore representations and adaptations of the femme fatale trope, reflect on the male gaze in art history, and consider gender identity, female physicality and sexuality from intersectional and queer feminist perspectives. In Jenevieve Aken’s work, for example, the ‘super femme fatale’ is a positively connoted, liberated (identificatory) figure who defies the constraints of a patriarchal society. Nan Goldin’s photographs show drag queens appropriating iconic figures who have long been stylised as femmes fatales, such as Marilyn Monroe or Madonna. In a similar way, Goldin’s video works place the mythological figures of Salome and the Sirens in new contexts. Betty Tompkins’ series of images highlight the fact that female sexuality is still being demonised today; her complex combinations of words and images reveal the continuities in a violently patriarchal art field, up to and including the #MeToo movement. Important counterpoints are also provided by artists such as Mickalene Thomas and Zandile Tshabalala, who deal with female beauty, physicality and sexuality through critical engagement with a white art canon.

Text from the Hamburger Kunsthalle website


Insectionality / Black Feminisms

Black women who are simply portrayed leading their everyday lives, without being reduced to their suffering or racial trauma experiences – unfortunately, this is a rarely shown image. The woman in the painting Lounging 1: G fabulous [below] is unmistakably depicted as Black. Next to her is a soft bathrobe. She is relaxing in a room with pompous wallpaper, on a fluffy carpet in front of a glamorous couch. Her material possessions, together with the fact that she is resting, are markers of luxury. For in the system of white supremacy, Black women are expected to live in a “hustle and grind culture”, where they continually have to prove themselves and try twice as hard as their white counterparts. Resting as a form of resistance is thus understood as a counter-movement and a radical
political practice against social injustice. The slogan “rest is resistance” became famous on social media through the organisation The Nap Ministry. Though the woman in Lounging 1: G fabulous is nude, she is not depicted in a voyeuristic or sexist way – as Black women are in many works of European and American art history. The power of the gaze no longer lies with a voyeur, but in this case emanates from the sitter. Despite her nakedness, the image is in no way about conforming to a male gaze. The woman in the work simply shows herself as she is.

Likewise, Jenevieve Aken’s series The Masked Woman [below] is about self-fulfilment. Her self-portrayals show everyday scenes from the life of a woman in Nigeria who has decided against the role of the subordinate housewife. Instead, she leads a contented solo life as a “super femme fatale” – as she writes herself. A decision for a lifestyle that is not nearly as socially prestigious as living in a bourgeois nuclear family. Both works create new self-designations and show how extensive and multi-layered Black female identities are.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Zandile Tshabalala (South African, b. 1999) 'Lounging 1: G fabulous' 2021


Zandile Tshabalala (South African, b. 1999)
Lounging 1: G fabulous
Acrylic and mixed media on canvas
120 × 200cm
Courtesy Privatsammlung Saskia Draxler und Christian Nagel
© Zandile Tshabalala / Privatsammlung Köln / Galerie Nagel Draxler Berlin / Köln / München


Jenevieve Aken (Nigeria, b. 1989) 'The Masked Woman' 2014


Jenevieve Aken (Nigeria, b. 1989)
The Masked Woman
Photographs seven-part series
Courtesy of the artist
© Jenevieve Aken



The Masked Woman is a self-portrait series that explores representation of gender in Nigeria society through a performative lens. It attempts to avert the overarching male gaze by facing it head on with the artist’s own actions and choices. The images portray the solitary lifestyle of the “super femme fatale” character, choosing to achieve pleasure and contentment through self-fulfilment that not dictated by the subservient role as a house wife or defined through a man’s affection. While depicting a confident and sexually free woman, the subject’s mask and body language also suggest a nuanced tone of isolation which speaks to her stigmatization in a society that has limiting and strictly defined roles of what the proper woman should be. By diverting the status-quo and exercising freedom of choice, such women are perceived as extreme, eccentric, and outside of polite society in Nigeria. The series personifies a growing number of independent, professional women in Nigeria who at once assert their autonomy while also being ostracized by cultural norms. Rather than waiting for the narrative to be told from the outside, I choose to give birth to my own freedom, in hope that it will inspires other women in Nigeria to express their independence and free-will.

Jenevieve Aken. “The Masked Woman,” on the Jenevieve Aken website Nd [Online] Cited 04/03/2023


Jenevieve Aken (born 1989) is a Nigerian documentary, self-portrait and urban portrait photographer, focusing on cultural and social issues. Her work often revolves around her personal experiences and social issues surrounding gender roles. …

The Masked Woman

This is a black and white, self-portrait series meant to depict women and their social roles in Nigerian culture. The images depict the peace and self-fulfilment of a woman without the stigmatised overarching views of women in a Nigerian culture. The images also explore how women can feel constrained by the stereotypes of what a “proper women” should act like in society. These photos are meant to exemplify women who have broken these stigmas but feel isolated by the norms of the society. In this series Aken hopes to inspire Nigerian women to practice their freedom regardless of external stereotypes.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Myth & Religion


Lilith was the first in various respects. Apparently, not only the Adam’s first wife who lived equally with him in the Garden of Eden, but also the first feminist, because she simply flew away when he demanded submission from her. Conveniently, as recorded in older Babylonian accounts, she was a hybrid being and had wings. Others imagined her as a hybrid between a woman and a serpent. Unfortunately, as a woman who was sexually independent, she evidently did not have a good image among the patriarchy, for she was said to bring sickness and death, to seduce and kill men, be infertile and kill newborn babies with the poisonous milk from her breast. In Jewish feminist theology, however, she stands for wisdom and strength because she was the first being to convince God to tell her his name – granting her unlimited power.


Judith is described in the Old Testament as a beautiful, wealthy and, besides this, pious widow who defended her Jewish homeland against the seizure by the Assyrian general Holofernes. She saved her mountain village of Bethulia by trusting in God completely and impressing Holofernes with her charm and wise speeches, so that she was able to sneak into his confidence. On the 40th day of the occupation, there was a celebration in Judith’s honour at which Holofernes got so drunk that Judith was able to cut off his head with her sword. The Assyrians left in horror and Judith retired to her quiet widowhood. Thanks to her deed, the overall trust in God was so great that no one could shake the Israeli community for a long time. In the Western world, the figure of Judith was often used as a motif in art, from the nineteenth century onwards with an increasingly eroticising, orientalising and anti-Semitic undertone. Judy Chicago, on the other hand, showed her as a feminist icon in her famous installation Dinner Party in the 1970s.


Today, Medusa is mainly known for her extravagant hairstyle consisting exclusively of live snakes. How did this come about? There exist several variants of her story in Greek mythology, but the best known says that Pallas Athena happened to witness her husband Poseidon raping the beautiful Medusa. Instead of helping her and imprisoning him, she disfigured the rape victim forever by conjuring up: snakes on her head, pigs’ teeth, scaly skin, arms made of bronze and a tongue hanging out. Anyone who caught sight of her would henceforth turn to stone in horror. The artistic representation of the terrifying snake’s head has fascinated artists since ancient times, and even today it plays a role in films, games or even the logo of the Versace fashion label. It appears to be the perfect antithesis to the Western ideal of women – evil, tough and ugly – and, according to some research, could represent the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, which went hand in hand with the demonisation of female strength.


Salome, who features prominently in the New Testament, albeit without being named, became famous for a dance: she danced so impressively and seductively at a feast that her powerful stepfather Herod assured her that he would grant her any wish in return. Her mother Herodias whispered in her ear what she wanted: the head of her adversary John the Baptist, who had publicly criticised the illegitimate marriage between her and Herod and thus humiliated her. The cut-off head was presented on a platter. In the nineteenth century, art was obsessed with this female figure, generally depicted as a lightly to barely clothed vamp who, because of her enthralling sex appeal, could only cost men their lives.


When it comes to the idealisation of femininity, nearly everything conceivable in Christian societies comes together in the image of the Madonna figure. Since the first appearance of Madonna portraits from the second century onwards, the Mother of God has been painted as an absolute symbol of a pure, innocent and self-sacrificing femininity, typically one including and suggesting motherliness. Mostly, she is shown in these pictures with the little Child Jesus in her arms or lap. The figure Mater dolorosa, meaning Mother of Sorrows, refers to the pain of childbirth and the lifelong care of a child (particularly a divine one). But there are also other, sometimes surprising expressions and variations of these representations: for example, the Madonna lactans, a nursing Madonna with visible breast, the Black Madonnas or Madonnas with a body-encompassing, almond-shaped corona shaped like a vulva.

However, a Madonna is not always staged in a supernatural, maternal manner. She can also be depicted somewhere between the extremes of ‘saint’ or ‘whore’.

Doing Feminism – With Art! booklet to the exhibition


Franz von Stuck (German, 1863-1928) 'Head of Medusa' c. 1892


Franz von Stuck (German, 1863-1928)
Head of Medusa
c. 1892
Pastel on paper
26.5 × 32.5 cm
Private collection
Courtesy Kunkel Fine Art, München
© Privatsammlung


Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898) 'The Apparition' After 1875


Gustave Moreau (French, 1826-1898)
The Apparition
After 1875
Oil on canvas
142 × 103cm
Paris, Musée Gustave Moreau
© bpk I RMN – Grand Palais I René-Gabriel Ojéda


Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) 'Madonna' 1895


Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Oil on canvas
90 × 71cm
Hamburger Kunsthalle, permanent loan of the Stiftung Hamburger Kunstsammlungen, acquired 1957
© SHK / Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk
Public domain


Birgit Jürgenssen (Austrian, 1949-2003) 'Untitled (Olga)' 1979


Birgit Jürgenssen (Austrian, 1949-2003)
Birgit Jürgenssen Untitled (Olga)
SX 70 Polaroid
10.5 x 8.7cm
© Birgit Jürgenssen, Estate Birgit Jürgenssen / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022; Courtesy Galerie Hubert Winter
Foto: pixelstorm



Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003) was an Austrian photographer, painter, graphic artist, curator and teacher who specialised in feminine body art with self-portraits and photo series, which have revealed a sequence of events related to the daily social life of a woman in its various forms including an atmosphere of shocking fear and common prejudices. She was acclaimed as one of the “outstanding international representatives of the feminist avant-garde”. She lived in Vienna. Apart from holding solo exhibitions of her photographic and other art works, she also taught at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.

Text from the Wikipedia website



With the epoch-spanning exhibition Femme Fatale: Gaze – Power – Gender, the Hamburger Kunsthalle is dedicating itself for the first time to diverse artistic treat-ments of the dazzling and clichéd image of the femme fatale. The stereotype of the erotic and seductive woman who holds men in her thrall, ultimately leading them to their downfall, has long been shaped by the male gaze and by a binary understanding of gender. The show will focus on various artistic manifestations of this theme dating from the early nineteenth century to the present while critically examining its origins and transformations: What historical changes and subsequent appropriation processes has the image of the femme fatale undergone? What role does it still play today? How do contemporary artists negotiate the gaze, power and gender constellations this image evokes in an effort to shift our perspective? The exhibition explores these questions based on some 200 exhibits across diverse media. On display are paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists (Evelyn de Morgan, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John William Waterhouse) as well as works of Symbolism (Fernand Khnopff, Gustave Moreau, Franz von Stuck), Impressionism (Lovis Corinth, Max Liebermann), Expressionism and New Objectivity (Dodo, Oskar Kokoschka, Jeanne Mammen, Edvard Munch, Gerda Wegener). Early feminist avant-garde artists (VALIE EXPORT, Birgit Jürgenssen, Maria Lassnig, Betty Tompkins), alongside recent works taking intersectional and (queer) feminist approaches (Jenevieve Aken – Philipp Otto Runge Foundation Fellow, Nan Goldin, Mickalene Thomas, Zandile Tshabalala) build a bridge to the present day. Among the paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, installations and video works on view are a wealth of high-ranking international loans as well as major works from the collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Highlights include Gustave Moreau’s major Symbolist work Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864), Edvard Munch’s painting Vampire in the Forest (1916-1918), Sonia Boyce’s much-discussed video installation Six Acts (2018), and Nan Goldin’s recent video works Sirens (2019-2021) and Salome (2019).

The “classical” image of the femme fatale was inspired mainly by biblical, mythological and literary figures (such as Judith, Salome, Medusa, Salambo and the Sirens) that were associated in art between 1860 and 1920 with the notion of mortal danger. Combining the feminine ideal with ominous portents, these pictures, often featuring stylised protagonists, convey a demonisation of female sexuality. Around 1900, this female image was increasingly projected onto real people, in particular actors, dancers and artists (such as Sarah Bernhardt, Alma Mahler and Anita Berber). Striking in this context is the simultaneous advancement of women’s emancipation and an upsurge in images of the femme fatale. The exhibition therefore also takes a look at the ideal of the New Woman that emerged in the 1920s as a counter-image that subtly takes up aspects of the femme fatale. Equally telling is the caesura that feminist artists brought about starting in the 1960s by radically deconstructing the myth and, with it, entrenched points of view and pictorial traditions. Contemporary artistic positions in turn address questions of gender identity, female corporeality and sexuality as well as the #MeToo movement and the male gaze. They track the traces and transformations of the image of the femme fatale or in other cases establish explicit counter-narratives.

The exhibition is accompanied by a particularly extensive art education programme: In addition to a diverse range of guided tours including livestreams of curator talks, a chatbot module will debut that lets visitors enter into a dialogue with six femme fatale figures from the art-works on view. A text-based dialogue system using artificial intelligence playfully tells background stories about the works and their artists. Developed jointly with the Stadtteilschule am Hafen, this module specifically addresses a younger target group. The Hamburger Kunsthalle is also offering audio descriptions for the first time. For selected exhibits, supplementary tactile copies are provided, which give people with visual impairments a way of accessing the exhibition independently by feeling contours. More audio tours are available in the Hamburger Kunsthalle app: for adults in German and English, for children from 8 years and older, and in simple language (both German). On the 4th Thursday of each month, a Salon fatal will dedicate itself to socially relevant topics that tie into the exhibition such as sexuality and the construction of beauty ideals. The salon will take the form of a reading, performance, panel discussion, concert or workshop, featuring changing guests. In cooperation with the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Metropolis Kino is showing a film series on the theme of the femme fatale – from silent films to recent productions.

A free companion booklet, produced in collaboration with Missy Magazine, opens up intersectional and (queer) feminist perspectives on the show. The exhibition theme will also be explored in interdisciplinary depth in the accompanying catalogue (Kerber Verlag), scheduled for publication in early 2023. The catalogue will be available for 39 euros in the museum shop or for the bookstore price of 50 euros at

Press release from Hamburger Kunsthalle


Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003) 'Untitled (Self with pelts)' 1974/1977


Birgit Jürgenssen (Austrian, 1949-2003)
Untitled (Self with pelts)




The exhibition Femme Fatale: Gaze – Power – Gender is dedicated to the myth of seductive, ominous femininity – and its deconstruction. This is an extract from Ina Hildburg-Schneider in conversation with the exhibition organisers Markus Bertsch and Ruth Stamm translated from the German by Google Translate:


Do the artists of the time deal with their fears of the early emancipatory movements in the 19th century by depicting the femme fatale?

Stamm: I believe that the picture has something to do with a growing women’s movement in the 19th century, which became more and more institutionalised from 1865 – right up to women’s suffrage. This is exactly the time when the classic femme fatale images are created. But that’s not all. There are also a number of other aspects, further emancipation movements, but also associated fears and projections. Orientalism and anti-Semitism in particular play a role in the femme fatale image.

Bertsch: And the self-perception of the man has also been very different over time. This is often overlooked. There is the age of decadence in France, in which the male artist sees himself as frail and in this way stylises himself as the victim of the apparently overpowering women. Whether this is a firm conviction or a staging remains to be seen. The structure was immensely complex and allowed very different, sometimes contradictory readings of the femme fatale.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the role models for depicting the femme fatale changed. Now the works of art show “real” women. Who do you think of first?

Bertsch: I’m thinking of Sarah Bernhardt, Alma Mahler, Anita Berber. Suddenly living people were referred to as “femmes fatales”. They sometimes even adopted the characteristics of a femme fatale themselves – or, as in the case of Alma Mahler, they were the product of an obsession. Yes, Oskar Kokoschka went particularly far with his admiration for Alma Mahler. This is documented by a photo series in the exhibition.

Stamm: Kokoschka had a fetish doll made by the doll maker Hermine Moos after Alma Mahler, according to his very specific, sometimes explicitly physical ideas. However, his wish for a doll that was as lifelike as possible was not fulfilled – the result disappointed him greatly. The photos in our exhibition show the doll, which served as his model many times, draped in various poses. After Kokoschka had created a number of paintings and drawings based on the doll, some of which brought life to life, the story ended with its violent destruction. Ultimately, in this way, Kokoschka got rid of the figure of Mahler, which he stylised, obsessively sought out and at the same time demonised.


Is the First World War a turning point in the history of the motif?

Bertsch: I think so. Everything that was previously present as a mythical reference dissolves, and art faces the current political and social realities more strongly. Certain images of femininity are being phased out. The classic type of femme fatale is eroding and disappearing.


The “New Woman” developed in the interwar period – is she the female interpretation of the femme fatale?

Stamm: The New Woman was not a concrete antithesis to the femme fatale, but a new, quite stylised, emancipated image of women that developed with the growing women’s movement. In fact, this ideal was only lived by very few women from rather elitist circles who could afford it. The “type of woman” with bob haircuts and cigarettes that accompanies this has been reflected all the more in art and of course offers a completely different narrative than the femme fatale.


Jeanne Mammen is one of the early 20th century artists on display. She was educated in Paris and Brussels. Some of the sheets shown were created there. Can she create a “Homme fatale” with the heart stabber (Herzensstecher)?

Bertsch: She definitely does. The Herzensstecher is a figure that already fascinated me in the 2016 exhibition in Frankfurt, and that can be read as a counterpart to the overpowering femme fatale motif. Mammen is a very independent artist who brought together many spheres of influence in her work and had important teachers in Brussels in Jean Delville and Fernand Khnopff, both of whom are represented in our exhibition. Both of them addressed the relationship between the sexes in their art and in some cases already created androgynous figures. Mammen dealt productively with this symbolist heritage, but created independent, deviating images of masculinity and, above all, of femininity.


Markus Bertsch heads the 19th Century Collection at the Hamburger Kunsthalle and is curator.
Ruth Stamm is project assistant for the exhibition Femme Fatale: Gaze – Power – Gender.
Ina Hildburg-Schneider is an art historian and has been an editor at the Friends of the Kunsthalle since 2022.

Ina Hildburg-Schneider. “Blickmacht,” on the Freunde Der Kunsthalle website Nd [Online] Cited 03/03/2023


Dorothy Iannone (American, 1933-2022) 'The Statue Of Liberty' 1977


Dorothy Iannone (American, 1933-2022)
The Statue Of Liberty
ColoUr silkscreen on paper
32 9/10 × 23 3/5 in (83.5 × 60cm)



Dorothy Iannone (August 9, 1933 – December 26, 2022) was an American visual artist. Her autobiographical texts, films, and paintings explicitly depict female sexuality and “ecstatic unity.” She lived and worked in Berlin, Germany. …

The majority of Iannone’s paintings, texts, and visual narratives depict themes of erotic love. Her explicit renderings of the human body draw heavily from the artist’s travels and from Japanese woodcuts, Greek vases, and visual motifs from Eastern religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, Indian Tantrism, and Christian ecstatic traditions like those of the seventeenth-century Baroque. Her small wooden statues of celebrities with visible genitals, including Charlie Chaplin and Jacqueline Kennedy, especially display with the artist’s interest in African tribal statues.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) 'Racquel: Come to me' 2016


Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971)
Racquel: Come to me
Rhinestones, acrylic, enamel and oil on wooden panel
274.6 × 213.7 × 5.1cm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York;
Proposed gift from Rachel and Jimmy Levin © 2022
Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022





The term is derived from the English word “able” and denotes discrimination based on physical abilities. People whose bodies are deemed less “able” due to a disability or impairment, are socially and spatially excluded and devalued. An ableist society adopts a ‘healthy’ body as the norm and sees all others as (negative) aberrations. Ableism is, for example, when a person in a wheelchair is dependent on the help of others because buildings aren’t constructed barrier-free. Or when blind students at universities or educational institutions don’t have full access to all teaching materials.



Hostile attitude toward Jews. It presents in various forms – from prejudice and verbal abuse to violence and murder. The gravest manifestation of antisemitism was German Nazism under Adolf Hitler, when between 1933 and 1945 more than six million Jewish people were murdered.



BIPoC is a political self-designation and short form for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The short form BIPoC combines the communities referred to but also underlines their different experiences. Because of this, the term is sometimes used as an alternative for the term People of Color, to make Black people and indigenous identities explicitly visible and to emphasise that not all People of Color have the same experiences.



Black is capitalised and is the politically correct and self-chosen term for Black people. The capital B emphasises social-political positioning within a society principally dominated by white people. The term Black is therefore not about biological characteristics but about socio-political affiliations. Black people are diverse and have completely diverse skin tones. As such, the term is more about highlighting the collective experiences that Black people have in this system and to emphasise their ongoing resistance.


Black Culture

The term Black Culture describes Black popular culture which deals mainly with entertainment, pleasure as well as knowledge and which is expressed via aesthetic codes and genres. It represents the identity and politics of Black cultures according to their beliefs, experiences and values. Although Black Culture encompasses all Black people worldwide, US-American Black pop culture is given the most attention.


Cis- and Transgenderism

Cis and trans are Latin words. Trans means “across” or “beyond” and, in relation to gender, refers to a person who does not identify with the sex assigned to them at birth and who experience themselves “beyond” it. Cis is, in a sense, the opposite. It can be translated as “on this side of” and indicates that someone lives within the boundaries of their assigned sex.



When recipients of state benefits are depicted as unwilling to work and unintelligent, this is an example of classism. Or when a working-class child is laughed at in university for not knowing certain trends or foreign words. Because people are not only discriminated against due to their gender and skin colour, but also because of the social and economic class they were brought up in. The term classism is even older than sexism and racism, the terms often associated with it: it was already in use in the 19th Century. Those who are poor and / or have less education due to a lack of resources are devalued in a classist society and have more difficulty accessing institutions seen as elitist.



Colonialism refers to a process of subjugation: one group of people goes to another group of people and imposes on it its rules, laws, language, customs, or religions in order to exploit it economically and culturally. When we speak of colonialism today, we mostly mean the process which began with the colonisation of the American continent by Europe’s ruling classes from the 15th century onwards and its negative consequences (such as racism, slavery, and exploitation) which can be still felt today.



Discrimination means the use of supposedly unambiguous distinctions to justify and rationalise unequal treatment. As a result of this unequal treatment, the persons discriminated against experience social disadvantages. Discrimination is an extensive system of social relationships, in which the discriminatory distinctions operate. Discrimination can therefore not be understood as a consequence of individual qualities. A by now very well known example for discrimination on a structural level is the Gender Pay Gap. This is the gap between the salaries of men and women as well as non-binary people for equal work. In 2022, women in Germany are still paid 18 percent less in terms of (gross) hourly wage than men.



The best-known examples are drag queens. A drag queen portrays, in a performative and artistic way, the appearance and behaviour of women, or rather femininity, a drag king the demeanour and outward appearance of men. This play with (exaggerated) femininity or masculinity is hence a show which is independent from the gender of the performer. The most famous drag practice is the embodiment of drag queens. These are often performed by queer men.



Mostly used as self-empowerment, it means to turn a disempowered situation into a more empowered one through certain actions. Often, this is a group process, for example, racially and sexually discriminated people who unite and fight for their cause and thus gain more confidence and, at best, more rights. This process may also take place symbolically, for example when young girls feel “empowered” by the encouraging writings of a feminist.



Eurocentrism means a view of the world that renders European history and so-called European principles as the primary measure of value. The term eurocentrism consequently makes evident global power relations and colonial historical thinking.



Feminism is a social movement, which has already undergone several waves with different priorities, for example the achievement of women’s suffrage in the first wave or the legal equality of men and women in the second wave. While in the past many feminists assumed essentialist gender conceptions, meaning a clear distinction between only two genders – female and male – contemporary feminism is more inclusive. Often it no longer speaks of women but uses the term FLINTA*, which encompasses Female, Lesbian, Intersex, Trans and Agender and, with the asterisk, all others who identify as feminine. Earlier feminists had often focused on the concerns of middle-class, white, western women. But as part of an intersectional consideration of feminism, queer, PoC, trans and many more feminist voices have gained influence in recent decades. Initially, feminism was understood as the liberation of women from the patriarchy, but today it ideally refers to engagement for a world in which all forms of oppression, discrimination and exploitation will be abolished.


Gender and sex

Gender describes the social, lived, perceived sex of a person. Gender is an English term, but is also used in German, precisely when it comes to social characteristics and gender identity. Gender is not limited to what is assigned to us at birth on the basis of physical characteristics but rather refers to socially constructed attributes, opportunities and relationships.



When at day care little girls and boys, who are friends, are asked if they want one day to marry each other, this is an example of heteronormativity: a worldview in which heterosexuality is seen as the norm, as ‘normal’ and so what is desirable for everyone. A heteronormative society divides people into the binary categories of men and women, values men as more important and tends to be hostile towards queerness.



Hustle-Culture/Grind-Culture describes a lifestyle, in which an aspiration to success and high-performance take priority. Long working hours and little rest are seen as the benchmarks of success.



Derived from the Latin word “imperium”, it means to pursue extended political and economic power outside one’s own (national) borders. By means of military or economic strategies, but also with the aid of culture and education, it is attempted to gain control over other countries or regions.



The term intersectionality was coined in 1989 by lawyer, scholar and civil rights activist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It is about the intersection and interaction of social identities and connected systems of oppression. Intersectionality focuses on the fact that people are often disadvantaged or benefit from several characteristics at once. Social, ethnic background, social and economic status as well as gender can be examples of such interconnected categories. A person may be Black and a woman, hence experiences racism and sexism. A white woman, on the other hand, experiences sexism too but benefits from her white privileges. Intersectional feminism therefore aims to recognise and make visible the multi-layered perspectives of people who experience overlapping forms of oppression.



LGBTQIA* is an English-language collective term for ways of living and loving outside the heterosexual norm, which is now being used around the world. It is short form for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer, Inter and Asexual. The asterisk stands for further identities that are perhaps not or not completely included therein, to leave no one out.


The male gaze

The male gaze is the concept of the male stare and stands for how systematically male control is applied and functions in our society. The term was coined by the feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey, who in the 1970s, brought attention to the fact that women in films were mostly represented as objects of male heterosexual fantasy.



Misogyny literally means »hatred of women« (from the ancient Greek: “misos” = “hate”, “gyne” = “woman”) and has been prevalent around the globe for thousands of years as a derogatory to murderous attitude towards about 50% of the world’s population.


(Non-) Binarity

If something is binary, it functions like a two-part system: there is always only the one and the other, like the two sides of a coin. Both mutually define each other. A binary gender system assumes that there are only men and women, and that everyone must belong to one of these two categories. Non-Binarity (NB) breaks up this rigid structure. Non-binary people, sometimes also called enbies (from NB), identify neither as man nor woman.



Objectification describes the dehumanising treatment of certain people as things, hence as objects. The most common example is sexist objectification by men, who reduce women to sex-objects.



The term Orientalism exposes how the world has been divided into two parts: on the one side there is the supposedly modern, enlightened West, the ‘Occident’, which sees itself as the centre and protagonist of world events. The ‘Orient’ finds itself on the other side, depicted by the West as ‘backward’ and ‘unmodern’, yet at the same time as ‘exotic’ and ‘sensual’. According to the Palestinian-American literary scholar Edward Said, who published his influential book titled Orientalism in 1978, the ‘Orient’ was invented by Europeans in order to better dominate and exploit these regions.



With othering, a usually more powerful group, or individual, dissociates itself from another group characterising it as ‘alien’ and ‘different’, thus devaluing it and connoting it negatively. The group higher up in the power structure thus discriminates against the people described as ‘different’ who cannot defend themselves against these attributions.



Patriarchy is a social system predominantly controlled and shaped by hetero-cis men. This means men determine the gender roles within society. Everything in the patriarchy is geared towards cis-men and they profit highly from such a system. Patriarchal structures are firmly established everywhere in our society. For example, for many in a heterosexual relationship it is still a given that the woman takes parental leave after a pregnancy to take care of the child while the father continues to work. Another example of patriarchal structures: the man is supposed to propose marriage. And after the wedding, the woman takes his name. A man’s power is thus always paramount, though emotions are denied to men. To cry, to be shy or insecure, or to take parental leave after the birth of a child – according to the patriarchy this is not how ‘real’ men behave. In this way men too are restricted by the patriarchy’s toxic masculinity.


People of Color

The term People of Color, PoC for short, is a self-designation and does not describe, like the terms Black and white, any particular skin tones. It is a matter of a position in society and an umbrella term for communities that experience marginalisation due to racism. The experienced racist discriminations vary and are far-reaching. To be asked every day “where are you from?” or be told “but your English is very good” are examples of this, as well as not being invited for a job interview because of one’s name or being threatened or attacked on the train.



If something is “queer” in English, it is actually peculiar or odd. Since the end of the 19th Century the word has been used derogatively for people who felt sexually attracted to their own gender. From the 1980s, this negative meaning was consciously and provocatively reversed by activists and the term was used positively. Today, many people who do not love heterosexually and / or live cisgendered, describe themselves as queer.



If people have to endure marginalisation or even violence because of their origin or their appearance, for example because of their skin colour or their religion, that is racism. Racism can take on many forms – for example anti- Muslim, anti-Black, or anti-Asian racism, that particularly targets these groups.



Sexism is the discrimination against people because of their sex. “Blonde jokes”, unequal pay for equal work or unwanted wolf-whistles on the street – these are all examples of sexism. Since we still live in patriarchal societies in which men dominate, sexism affects people perceived as female. But men too can be restricted by patriarchal gender stereotypes such as “boys don’t cry” or “men don’t know about babies.”



Stereotyping is the generalisation of a group of people. In the process, individuals and the differences between them are not considered. Instead, all people in this group are reduced to the same, often negative, characteristics.



Stigmatisation is a distinctly negative demarcation from other individuals or groups within a society. This may happen in interpersonal relationships, such as bullying in school, or on a structural level, when for example People of Color repeatedly experience rejection when searching for apartments, or when people with specific therapy experience are denied civil servant status. In this last case, derogatory characteristics are attributed to a mentally ill person by large sections of society, denying them full social acceptance.



White is the socio-politically correct description for white people. It is not a biological term, rather a position in society. The terms Black, PoC and BIPoC are capitalised because they are self-chosen terms. The term white, on the other hand, is written in lower case and often in italics. The call for concrete labelling of white, hence white people and white privileges, became louder through antiracist movements. Because being white, from a white perspective, is generally the norm. In this way, being white is often made invisible, while all non-white people are made visible and portrayed as supposedly ‘different’.


White Supremacy

White Supremacy is the ideology that white people, and all their ideas, actions and opinions are superior to those of BIPoC. White Supremacy is a self-sustaining system in that it marginalises People of Color though colonialism, exploitation and repression and so guarantees white people a continuous position of power.


This accompanying glossary is a cooperation between Missy Magazine and Hamburger Kunsthalle. It is published on the occasion of the exhibition.


Concept and Realisation: Sonja Eismann, Melanie Fahden, Selvi Göktepe, Josephine Papke, Ruth Stamm, Andrea Weniger
Authors: Sonja Eismann, Josephine Papke
Editors: Nanda Bröckling, Melanie Fahden, Selvi Göktepe, Ruth Stamm, Andrea Weniger
English translation: Matthew Burbridge



Hamburger Kunsthalle
Glockengießerwall 20095 Hamburg
Phone: +49 (0)40-428 131 204

Opening hours:
Tuesdays to Sundays 10am – 6pm
Thursdays 10am – 9pm
Closed Mondays

Hamburger Kunsthalle website


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Exhibition: ‘The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930’ at Wrightwood 659, Chicago

Exhibition dates: 1st October – 17th December 2022

Curators: Jonathan D. Katz, Curator and Johnny Willis, Associate Curator



Roberto Montenegro (Mexican, 1885-1968) 'Retrato de un anticuario o Retrato de Chucho Reyes y autorretrato' 1026


Roberto Montenegro (Mexican, 1885-1968)
Retrato de un anticuario o Retrato de Chucho Reyes y autorretrato
Portrait of an antiquarian or Portrait of Chucho Reyes and self-portrait

Oil on canvas
40.4 x 40.4 in (unframed), 41.7 x 41.6 x 1.6 in (framed)
Colección Pérez Simón, Mexico, © Arturo Piera



Short and sweet…

I believe that any artist that lives at the edge of desire, of creativity, of individuality, exploration and feeling – in seeing the world from different points of view – pushes the boundaries of what the conservative mass of humanity finds acceptable.

Defying the taboo is only possible because the taboo exists in the first place. The taboo against sensuality, eroticism and pleasure can only be broken by approaching those ecstatic and liminal spaces that lead to other states of consciousness, by being attentive to the dropping away of awareness so that we avoid the frequency of common intensities, instead illuminating spaces and languages where new cultural symbols and meanings can emerge. This is what artists and people of difference do: we approach the ‘Thing Itself’. We live on the edge of ecstasy, oblivion and revelation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. I have added bibliographic information to the posting where possible.

Many thankx to Wrightwood 659 for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930 takes as its starting point the year 1869, when the word “homosexual” was first coined in Europe, inaugurating the idea of same-sex desire as the basis for a new identity category. On view will be more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and film clips – drawn from public and private collections around the globe and including a number of national treasures which have never before been allowed to travel outside their countries. This groundbreaking exhibition offers the first multi-medium survey of the very first self-consciously queer art, exploring what the “first homosexuals” understood themselves to be, how dominant culture, in turn, understood them, and how the codes of representation they employed offer us previously unknown glimpses into the social and cultural meanings of same-sex desire.

The First Homosexuals is being organised in two parts, due to COVID-related delays, with part one opening on October 1 with approximately 100 works, and on view only at Wrightwood 659. Three years from now, in 2025, 250 masterworks will be gathered at Wrightwood 659 for part two of The First Homosexuals in an exhibition which will travel internationally and be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue.

The exhibition is being developed by a team of 23 international scholars led by art historian Jonathan D. Katz, Professor of Practice in the History of Art and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with associate curator Johnny Willis.

PLEASE NOTE: This exhibition contains sexually explicit content. For mature audiences only.



Alice Austen (American, 1866-1952) 'Trude & I Masked, Short Skirts' 1891


Alice Austen (American, 1866-1952)
Trude & I Masked, Short Skirts
Print, 4 x 5 in
Historic Richmond Town



Elizabeth Alice Austen (March 17, 1866 – June 9, 1952) was an American photographer working in Staten Island.

One of America’s first female photographers to work outside of the studio, Austen often transported up to 50 pounds of photographic equipment on her bicycle to capture her world.[citation needed] Her photographs represent street and private life through the lens of a lesbian woman whose life spanned from 1866 to 1952. Austen was a rebel who broke away from the constraints of her Victorian environment and forged an independent life that broke boundaries of acceptable female behaviour and social rules. …

Alice Austen’s life and relationships with other women are crucial to an understanding of her work. Until very recently many interpretations of Austen’s work overlooked her intimate relationships. What is especially significant about Austen’s photographs is that they provide rare documentation of intimate relationships between Victorian women. Her non-traditional lifestyle and that of her friends, although intended for private viewing, is the subject of some of her most critically acclaimed photographs. Austen would spend 53 years in a devoted loving relationship with Gertrude Tate, 30 years of which were spent living together in her home which is now the site of the Alice Austen House Museum and a nationally designated site of LGBTQ history.

Austen’s wealth was lost in the stock market crash of 1929 and she and Tate were evicted from their beloved home in 1945. Tate and Austen were finally separated by family rejection of their relationship and poverty. Austen was moved to the Staten Island Farm Colony where Tate would visit her weekly. In 1951 Austen’s photographs were rediscovered by historian Oliver Jensen and money was raised by the publication of her photographs to place Austen in private nursing home care. On June 9, 1952 Austen passed away. The final wishes of Austen and Tate to be buried together were denied by their families.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Violet Oakley (American, 1874-1961) 'Edith Emerson Lecturing' c. 1935


Violet Oakley (American, 1874-1961)
Edith Emerson Lecturing
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
35 x 45 in.
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA: gift of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 2012
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum



Violet Oakley (June 10, 1874 – February 25, 1961) was an American artist. She was the first American woman to receive a public mural commission. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, she was renowned as a pathbreaker in mural decoration, a field that had been exclusively practiced by men. Oakley excelled at murals and stained glass designs that addressed themes from history and literature in Renaissance-revival styles.


Edith Emerson (American, 1888-1981) 'Portrait of Violet Oakley' Date unknown


Edith Emerson (American, 1888-1981)
Portrait of Violet Oakley
Date unknown
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 in.
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA: gift of Jane and Noble Hall, 1998
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum



Edith Emerson (July 27, 1888 – November 21, 1981) was an American painter, muralist, illustrator, writer, and curator. She was the life partner of acclaimed muralist Violet Oakley and served as the vice-president, president, and curator of the Woodmere Art Museum in the Chestnut Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1940 to 1978. …

[Oakley’s] life partner, Edith Emerson, was a painter and, at one time, a student of Oakley’s. In 1916, Emerson moved into Oakley’s Mount Airy home, Cogslea, where Oakley had formed a communal household with three other women artists, calling themselves the Red Rose Girls. Emerson and Oakley’s relationship endured until Oakley’s death and Emerson subsequently established a foundation to memorialise Oakley’s life and legacy. The foundation dissolved in 1988 and the assets donated to the Smithsonian Museum.

Following Violet Oakley’s death in 1961, Emerson created the Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation to keep her teacher and companion’s memory and ideals alive. The foundation also sought to house and preserve the contents of Oakley’s studio, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 as the Violet Oakley Studio. Emerson served as the foundation’s president, as well as curator and general caretaker of the studio. The studio was opened to the public as a kind of museum, and Emerson organised various activities there, including concerts, exhibitions, poetry readings, and lectures on American art and illustration. Following Emerson’s death, the foundation dispersed the contents, sold the house, and disbanded.

In 1979, Emerson was instrumental in mounting an Oakley revival as an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Owe Zerge (Swedish, 1894-1984) 'Model Act' 1919


Owe Zerge (Swedish, 1894-1984)
Model Act
Oil on canvas
53.1 x 19.7 in.
Private Collection



Role of Art in the Modern Construction of Same-Sex Desire Explored for First Time in Groundbreaking Two-Part Exhibition at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, begins in the year 1869, when the word “homosexual” was coined in Europe, inaugurating the idea of same-sex desire as the basis for a new identity category. With more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and film clips – drawn from public and private collections around the globe and including works which have never before been allowed to travel outside their countries – this large-scale international exhibition offers the first multi-media survey of some of the founding works of queer art. The First Homosexuals explores what the earliest homosexuals understood themselves to be, how dominant culture understood them, and how the codes of representation they employed offer previously unknown glimpses into the social and cultural meanings of same-sex desire.

The First Homosexuals is organised in two parts, due to Covid-related delays, with Part I on view only at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago from October 1 through December 17, 2022. Three years from now, in 2025, 250 masterworks will be gathered at Wrightwood 659 for Part II, in a major exhibition that will travel internationally, accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue.

Already three years in the making, the exhibition is being developed by a team of 23 international scholars, led by art historian Jonathan D. Katz, Professor of Practice in the History of Art and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with associate curator Johnny Willis.

The First Homosexuals rewrites conventional art history, in part by deepening the reading of works of art by familiar artists – whether it be Henry Fuseli, Thomas Eakins, or George Bellows – and in part by lifting the cover off works that previously have not been widely understood as declarations of same-sex attachment. The exhibition also introduces American museum goers to a number of artists who are little known in the United States but revered in their own countries, including Gerda Wegener (Denmark); Eugéne Jansson (Sweden); and Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand).

The First Homosexuals explores the cohesion of a new global identity at a liminal moment, one that art can tell uniquely well. While the written archive of the period must necessarily use accepted words to describe ideas, art is notably free of such consensus, allowing for the emergence of more idiosyncratic, contested, and exploratory forms.

The First Homosexuals is an international project of an incredible scale. It perfectly fulfils our mission of presenting novel, socially engaged exhibitions,” says Chirag G. Badlani, Executive Director of Alphawood Foundation Chicago, which is presenting The First Homosexuals through Alphawood Exhibitions. “We are thrilled that the community can experience an important exhibition like this at Wrightwood 659 – given the content, it otherwise might not be seen.” He added, “We are particularly proud to show a collection of early Russian queer works borrowed from the Odesa Fine Arts Museum in Ukraine, amidst the ongoing war, helping to safeguard these important pieces of queer history from potential damage or destruction.”

Dr. Katz, notes, “The First Homosexuals demonstrates that as the language used to name same-sex desire narrowed into a simple binary of homosexual / heterosexual, art went the opposite direction, giving form to a range of sexualities and genders that can best be described as queer. Art became the place where the simplistic sexual binary could be nuanced and particularised, evoking emotions and responses that language couldn’t yet express.”

Dr. Katz continues, “The reality is that current-day conceptions about homosexuality are only roughly as old as the oldest living Americans. Our goal in this exhibition is to read queer desire as it manifested itself in this not-so-long-ago past, while being alert to the very different forms it took globally.”


The Exhibition

Part I of The First Homosexuals is installed in nine sections, occupying the entire second floor of the Tadao Ando-designed galleries of Wrightwood 659. The first section, entitled Before Homosexuality, features 19th-century works that suggest how unself-consciously same-sex eroticism was portrayed before the coinage of the word homosexual. A highlight is a print depicting a sexual act between two men by Hokusai, the ukiyo-e master of Japan’s Edo period. Hokusai’s image would have been entirely uncontroversial in its day.

Among the works installed in Couples, the second section, is a leisurely boating scene by the French painter Louise Abbéma, showing herself in masculinate garb with her lover, the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt. Two other paintings represent reverse homages, wherein the American artist Edith Emerson paints her lover Violet Oakley and Oakley returns the favour by producing an oil study of Emerson. Also on view in this section is an illustration by Oakley that ran in the December 1903 issue of the popular The Century Magazine, depicting heaven as populated entirely by lithe young women in flowing gold and white robes.

Especially notable in Between Genders is a seductive reclining nude, a painting of one of the first modern transgender women: Gerda Wegener’s Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe), 1929. Nearby, the Russian artist Konstantin Somov’s delicate Portrait of Cécile de Volanges, 1917, appears to portray an 18th-century aristocratic beauty; however, the face is the artist’s own.

Between Genders abounds with photographs documenting the social experiments of the time, including a postcard of the French chanteuse Josephine Baker in male evening attire; the Norwegian Marie Høeg dressed as a man in a variety of carte de visite poses, the calling cards of their day; the French surrealist Claude Cahun in a meditative position with a shaved head looking neither male nor female; and, from across the Atlantic, c. 1890s sepia-toned photographs of an African American man, perhaps once enslaved, performing female drag on the vaudeville stage. A film segment featuring Loïe Fuller performing her legendary Serpentine Dance, 1905, contrasts with another film clip by the Frères Lumière of a male dancer performing the same dance and dressed like Fuller in flowing, billowing robes.

In the section Pose is a famous portrait by the Mexican artist Roberto Montenegro of his friend, the antique and antiquities dealer Chucho Reyes. The limp wrist, the tilted chin, and the amused smile are legible tropes of queer codes even today. As well as picturing Reyes ensconced proudly among his treasures, including an oval miniature of a woman, Montenegro included in the foreground a silver ball reflecting his own visage, thus bringing himself into the picture.

A contrasting note is hit nearby where a recording of “Ma” Rainey’s blues song, “Prove It On Me,” will be played and a vintage advertisement for the vinyl record displayed. Rainey had been arrested for participating in a lesbian sex orgy, a notorious event that she shrewdly parlayed into the #1 best-selling record within the African American community in 1928.

Dr. Katz anchors the exhibition section called Archetypes around an acknowledged masterpiece of American painting, Thomas Eakins’s Salutat,1898. The painting is shown in The First Homosexuals as an example of a scene engineered to focus attention on an erotic part of the young male body. Dr. Katz observes that the crowd appears to be not so much cheering a boxing victory as absorbing a perfect specimen of male beauty.

Throughout this section, the viewer can track the ideal of male beauty evolving beyond the 19th-century ephebic (youthful male beauty idealised in ancient times) to a more masculinised ideal of perfection. A defining work here is a study by Swedish artist Eugène Jansson for his most famous painting, The Naval Bath House, 1907. The custom of young men swimming nude in all-male settings was universal in the West – as seen elsewhere in The First Homosexuals. In this drawing, Jansson carefully employs Cezanne-like strokes to work out seven different poses for as many young men.

The section entitled Desire brings together works of art that are stylistically varied, according to the visual language of the artist’s national culture and training, but alike in depicting same-gender sex or magnifying parts of the body for erotic effect. These include erotica from China, Japan, Iran, and India and a pair of seemingly sedate figure drawings by the French artist Jane Poupelet focusing on the rear view of female models, so as to eroticise women in a way that works to exclude the heterosexual male gaze.

In the section entitled Colonizing, the art on view reflects a number of dynamics, including the Euro-centric definition of early homosexuality, which often clashed with more indigenous forms, and the Western presumption that the East was decadent. European interlopers employed the latter to excuse otherwise forbidden sexual alliances as well as to justify political domination. Here are works as disparate as the Sri Lankan painter David Paynter’s modernist oil, L’après midi, 1935; F. Holland Day’s haunting double exposure photograph, The Vision, (Orpheus Scene), 1907; and a propaganda piece dropped by Japanese nationals into Russian territory to demoralise Russian troops during the Russo-Japanese War.

Following, in the section Public and Private, comes Charles Demuth’s ‘morning after’ scene of three young men in pyjamas and underwear in a stylish domestic interior; lesbian genre scenes set in Eastern Europe; and Marsden Hartley’s Berlin Ante War, 1914, a painting charting life, death, faith, sunrise, and sunset in symbolic forms and colours.

The centrepiece of the final thematic section, Past and Future, is a little-known masterpiece by the Finnish artist, Magnus Enckell, an impressionist-styled painting that reverses the classical myth of Leda and the swan, illustrating a nude man strangling the rapacious figure of Zeus in the form of a swan. Other works here evidence what is likely the earliest use of the rainbow as a symbol of same-sex love; photographs by Wilhelm von Gloeden that combine classical ruins and Sicilian youth; and the desire to acknowledge same-sex precedents in ancient history, as in the colour lithograph, Hadrian and Antinous, 1906, by Paul Avril (Édouard-Henri Avril).

The First Homosexuals documents The Elisarion, a temple to the arts built by the same-sex cultist and visionary Elisar von Kupffer in 1926 in Minusio, a tiny principality in Switzerland. Paintings of scenes illustrating same-sex desire once covered the walls of von Kupffer’s Sanctuarium. A cache of these were discovered recently in a municipal warehouse in Minusio by Dr. Katz and his team. This fall, the paintings will be seen for the first time in documentary photographs. In 2025, the actual large-scale paintings will be exhibited for the first time outside Switzerland in Part II of The First Homosexuals: Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930.

Press release from Wrightwood 659


Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949) 'Untitled [Marie Høeg and her brother in the studio]' c. 1895-1903


Berg & Høeg (Horten)
Bolette Berg (Norwegian, 1872-1944)
Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949)
Untitled [Marie Høeg and her brother in the studio]
c. 1895-1903
Print, 2.4 x 3.1 in
Owner: Preus Museum Collection, Norway


Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949) 'Marie Høeg dressed as a man' 1895-1903


Berg & Høeg (Horten)
Bolette Berg (Norwegian, 1872-1944)
Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949)
Marie Høeg dressed as a man
Owner: Preus Museum Collection, Norway


Eugène Jansson (Swedish, 1862-1915) 'Bath house study' Nd


Eugène Jansson (Swedish, 1862-1915)
Bath house study
Black chalk on paper
33 1/2 x 39 inches



Eugène Fredrik Jansson (18 March 1862, Stockholm – 15 June 1915, Skara) was a Swedish painter known for his night-time land- and cityscapes dominated by shades of blue. Towards the end of his life, from about 1904, he mainly painted male nudes. The earlier of these phases has caused him to sometimes be referred to as blåmålaren, “the blue-painter”. …

After 1904, when he had already achieved success with his Stockholm views, Jansson confessed to a friend that he felt absolutely exhausted and had no more wish to continue with what he had done until then. He stopped participating in exhibitions for several years and went over to figure painting. To combat the health issues he had suffered from since childhood, he became a diligent swimmer and winter bather, often visiting the navy bathhouse, where he found the new subjects for his paintings. He painted groups of sunbathing sailors, and young muscular nude men lifting weights or doing other physical exercises.

Art historians and critics have long avoided the issue of any possible homoerotic tendencies in this later phase of his art, but later studies (see Brummer 1999) have established that Jansson was in all probability homosexual and appears to have had a relationship with at least one of his models. His brother, Adrian Jansson, who was himself homosexual and survived Eugène by many years, burnt all his letters and many other papers, possibly to avoid scandal (homosexuality was illegal in Sweden until 1944).

Text from the Wikipedia website


F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Vision (Orpheus Scene)' 1907


F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Vision (Orpheus Scene)
Platinum print


Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923) 'The Guest, Venice' 1913


Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923)
The Guest, Venice
Oil on canvas
28.9 x 15 in
Woodstock Art Gallery, Woodstock, Ontario, gift of Lenora McCartney
Photo Credit: John Tamblyn



Florence Carlyle

Florence Carlyle (1864-1923) was a Canadian painter born in Ontario. Carlyle studied painting in Paris beginning in 1890, where she exhibited work at Paris Salons while gaining recognition in Canada and the United States – achievements unusual for women of her time. After Carlyle returned to Canada in 1896, she continued to exhibit widely and contributed artworks to major exhibitions and museum collections. Influenced by the French Barbizon School, Impressionism, and the work of fellow female painters, Carlyle was known for intimate, domestic scenes of middle-class women’s lives.

In 1911, Carlyle traveled to Italy and England, where she met Judith Hastings, who would become her lifelong companion and model. In 1913, Carlyle and Hastings settled in Yew Tree Cottage in East Sussex. The Guest, Venice shows Hastings and Carlyle in conversation at sunset in a scene dominated by warm reds and yellows. The women’s poses and gestures seem to reflect each other – Hastings, seated, invitingly pulls on a long necklace while Carlyle leans comfortably on a windowsill, their complimentary poses suggesting an intimate relationship. The Threshold depicts Hastings as a bride. In place of a groom, Hastings stands across from an empty chair and a vase of flowers, this absence perhaps a subtle allusion to her relationship with Carlyle.

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930 is the first exhibition to display Carlyle’s artwork in the context of same-sex desire and relationships.

On view: Self Portrait, c. 1901, Oil on canvas; The Threshold, 1913, Oil on canvas; The Guest, Venice, 1913, Oil on canvas.


Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923) 'The Threshold' 1913


Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923)
The Threshold
Oil on canvas
117 x 96.5cm


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged]' 1920


Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged]
Gelatin silver print



Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) was a French photographer and writer known for works created in collaboration with their artistic and life partner Marcel Moore (1892-1972), an illustrator for magazines and avant-garde dance and theatre productions. Both artists adopted androgynous names in the 1910s and lived together in Paris by the early 1920s. In Paris, Cahun made theatrical and surrealist self-portraits, often dressing in masculine clothing with a shaved head or short-cropped hair and in elaborate costume, makeup, or masks.

Although Cahun considered themself a surrealist, and their images and writings presaged the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, they were not aways readily accepted by Surrealist circles who celebrated images of women but rejected female artists. Despite this, many surrealists held Cahun in high regard, including Andre Breton, who recognised Cahun as, “one of the most curious spirits of our time.” Cahun’s 1930 surrealist autobiographical text Aveux non avenus combines non-linear stories and ideas with photomontages and self-portraits. In this text, Cahun also draws connections between their gender-fluid self-portraiture and identity, declaring that “neuter is the only gender that invariably suits me.”

On view: Illustration for Vues et Visions, 1919, Exhibition print; Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged], 1920, Exhibition print.


Anonymous photographer (France). 'Untitled [Two Black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage]' c. 1903


Anonymous photographer (France)
Untitled [Two Black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage]
c. 1903
Print, 5.5 x 3.5 in
Wellcome Collection



Charles Gregory and Jack Brown

Charles Gregory and Jack Brown were American performing artists credited with introducing the wildly popular Cake-Walk dance to Paris in 1902. The Cake-Walk, which often featured gaudy and ostentatious costumes worn by both men and women, began as a parody of the European “Grand March” performed by Black enslaved people on antebellum Southern plantations. Although the dance was originally performed by and for Black communities, the Cake-Walk became popular with white slaveholders as well, who incorporated the dance into minstrel shows where it would be performed in blackface.

In the late 19th century, the Cake Walk took off as a dance craze, in the United States and Europe. Around the same time, the dance was also adopted by the underground Black queer community. William Dorsey Swann, the first self-proclaimed “queen of drag”, held the first drag balls in Washington, D.C., which featured Cake-Walk dances performed by men in women’s clothing. Drag balls went on to become a mainstay of Black queer and trans expression, becoming popular during the Harlem Renaissance and later in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and San Francisco. This film of Jack Brown and Charles Gregory is the first extant drag film, produced by those famed early innovators in cinema, the Lumière Brothers.

On view: Unknown artist, Le cake-walk. Dansé au Nouveau Cirque. Les nègres [Two black actors, Charles Gregory and Jack Brown, one in drag, dancing the Cake-Walk in Paris], 1903, Exhibition print; Untitled [Two black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage], c. 1903, Exhibition print; Auguste and Louis Lumière, Nègres, [I], c. 1902-1903, Digital reproduction of film.



Nègres, [I] (1903) Lumière [incomplete]


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940) 'Venus and Amor' Nd


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Venus and Amor
Oil on canvas
81 by 116cm (31 3/4 by 45 3/4in.)


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940) 'Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe)' 1929


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe)
Watercolour on paper
20.8 x 26.9 in
The Shin Collection, New York
Image Courtesy of Shin Gallery, New York



Gerda Wegener and Lili Elbe

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) and Lili Elbe (1882-1931) were Danish artists active in the early 20th century. The two met while students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where Elbe was known by her birth name Einar Wegener. The couple married in 1904 and both worked as artists. Wegener was known for her illustrations, including female same-sex erotica; Elbe produced landscape paintings.

Lili Elbe began to understand herself as a woman as early as 1904. In 1912, Elbe and Wegener moved from Copenhagen to Paris, where Elbe openly dressed and identified as a woman. Throughout their partnership, Elbe was a favoured muse of Wegener and modelled for many of her paintings, including Art Deco and Art Nouveau images of the independent “New Woman.” Many of Wegener’s images depict female characters in erotic or homosocial environments – in the case of Venus and Amor, feminine and androgynous figures populate an idyllic allegorical scene. In 1930, Elbe traveled to Germany for the first of four sex reassignment surgeries, which was completed under the supervision of physician Magnus Hirschfeld, who had coined the term “transsexual” in 1923. Elbe died from complications of a fourth surgery in 1931.

In 2000, David Ebershoff depicted Wegener and Elbe’s relationship in his book The Danish Girl, which was adapted into a film in 2015.

On view: Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener), An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles, 1917, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe), 1919, Watercolour; Gerda Wegener, Venus and Amor, c. 1920, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Ulla Poulsen (Ballerina), c. 1927, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Erotic Scene, Ink and watercolour on paper.


Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener) (Danish, 1882-1931) 'An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles' 1917


Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener) (Danish, 1882-1931)
An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles
Oil on canvas
Height: 61cm (24 in); width: 81cm (31.8 in)


Gerda Wegener. 'The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana' Paris, 1927


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana
Paris, 1927
Oil on canvas


Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939) 'Portrait of Cécile de Volanges' 1934


Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)
Portrait of Cécile de Volanges
Pencils on paper



Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov (1869-1939) was a Russian painter and a leading figure in the inter-disciplinary artistic movement and eponymous journal Mir iskusstva (World of Art), active from 1897 to the mid-1920s. Somov often depicted doll-like harlequin characters, women wearing masks, and French Rococo-style costume in his work. Some of these romantic or erotic compositions reference works by Aubrey Beardsley, an English illustrator who also evoked erotic masquerades in his artwork.

In Somov’s scenes, costumes often obscure the gender of couples engaging in romantic activity and reference an excessive game of love and emotion – a theme common to other artists associated with the Decadent movement and Russian Symbolism. Somov was also known for portraying women as ugly or masculine in images he described as encapsulating his frustration with his own same-sex attraction. Along with his erotic scenes, Somov painted male nudes and portraits of his close friends and partners. Somov also adopted the rainbow as a reference to homosexuality via the story of the biblical flood, in which the rainbow represents absolution and acceptance after divine punishment for corporeal sin.

On view: Standing Male Model from Back, 1896, Crayons and sauce-crayon on paper; A Shepard and a Dog, 1898, Exhibition print; Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks), 1910, Watercolours and whitewash on paper; Les Tribades illustration for Le Livre de la Marquise, Watercolours and zincography on paper; Landscape with Rainbows, 1915, Oil on canvas; Portrait of Cécile de Volanges, 1917, Pencils on paper.


Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939) 'Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks)' 1910


Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)
Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks)
Watercolours and whitewash on paper
46 × 35cm


Lionel Wendt (Sri Lankan, 1900-1944) 'Nude with a light bulb' c. 1935


Lionel Wendt (Sri Lankan, 1900-1944)
Nude with a light bulb
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print



Lionel Wendt

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944) was a photographer, pianist, critic, and filmmaker born in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) to a Burgher father and a Sinhalese mother. As a young man, Wendt traveled to London, where he studied music and earned a law degree. In 1924, Wendt returned to Ceylon and became associated with prominent artists including Geoffrey Beyling, Ivan Peries, and George Keyt, with whom he founded the 43 Group. Recognised as the first modern art group in Ceylon, the 43 Group promoted artwork that departed from academic style and colonial tradition in favour of free expression.

Wendt is known for his photographs of Sinhalese subjects, documentation of indigenous ways of life, intimate portraits, and his experimental images, which deployed techniques the artist observed in Surrealist photography. Some of these images use photography to complicate the act of viewing or trouble the cohesion of Wendt’s subject. For example, Wendt’s Nude with a light bulb (c. 1935) deals with the concept of exposure in multiple registers. The image’s composition alternately exposes the male body and refuses identification, perhaps commenting on the alternately public and private nature of homosexuality. The image also references the techniques of photography itself; a single lightbulb literally exposes a domestic interior to reveal an assembly of jars, pitchers, and timer-tools; items often present in a dark room where a photographer makes an “exposure” of a negative to produce a print.

On view: Nude with a light bulb, c. 1935, Gelatin silver print.


Circle of Eakins. 'Thomas Eakins and students, swimming nude' c. 1883


Circle of Eakins
Thomas Eakins and students, swimming nude
c. 1883
Platinum print
8 15/16 x 11 1/16 in. (22.7 x 28.1cm)
Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Charles Bregler’s Thomas Eakins Collection, purchased with the partial support of the Pew Memorial Trust



Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important American artists.

For the length of his professional career, from the early 1870s until his health began to fail some 40 years later, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia. He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of contemporary Philadelphia; individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons.

In addition, Eakins produced a number of large paintings that brought the portrait out of the drawing room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city. These active outdoor venues allowed him to paint the subject that most inspired him: the nude or lightly clad figure in motion. In the process, he could model the forms of the body in full sunlight, and create images of deep space utilising his studies in perspective. Eakins also took a keen interest in the new technologies of motion photography, a field in which he is now seen as an innovator.

No less important in Eakins’ life was his work as a teacher. As an instructor he was a highly influential presence in American art. The difficulties which beset him as an artist seeking to paint the portrait and figure realistically were paralleled and even amplified in his career as an educator, where behavioural and sexual scandals truncated his success and damaged his reputation.

Eakins was a controversial figure whose work received little by way of official recognition during his lifetime. Since his death, he has been celebrated by American art historians as “the strongest, most profound realist in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American art”. …

The Swimming Hole (1884-1885) features Eakins’ finest studies of the nude, in his most successfully constructed outdoor picture. The figures are those of his friends and students, and include a self-portrait. Although there are photographs by Eakins which relate to the painting, the picture’s powerful pyramidal composition and sculptural conception of the individual bodies are completely distinctive pictorial resolutions. The work was painted on commission, but was refused.

In the late 1890s Eakins returned to the male figure, this time in a more urban setting. Taking the Count (1896), a painting of a prizefight, was his second largest canvas, but not his most successful composition. The same may be said of Wrestlers (1899). More successful was Between Rounds (1899), for which boxer Billy Smith posed seated in his corner at Philadelphia’s Arena; in fact, all the principal figures were posed by models re-enacting what had been an actual fight. Salutat (1898), a frieze-like composition in which the main figure is isolated, “is one of Eakins’ finest achievements in figure-painting.” …


Personal life and marriage

The nature of Eakins’ sexuality and its impact on his art is a matter of intense scholarly debate. Strong circumstantial evidence points to discussion during Eakins’s lifetime that he had homosexual leanings, and there is little doubt that he was attracted to men, as evidenced in his photography, and three major paintings where male buttocks are a focal point: The Gross Clinic, Salutat, and The Swimming Hole. The last, in which Eakins appears, is increasingly seen as sensuous and autobiographical.

Until recently, major Eakins scholars persistently denied he was homosexual, and such discussion was marginalised. While there is still no consensus, today discussion of homoerotic desire plays a large role in Eakins scholarship. The discovery of a large trove of Eakins’ personal papers in 1984 has also driven reassessment of his life.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Salutat, Between Rounds (a portion of which was executed separately as Billy Smith) and Taking the Count are a series of three large boxing paintings done by Eakins. The former two depict events surrounding a boxing match that took place on April 22, 1898. Featherweight Tim Callahan fought featherweight Billy Smith in a match that was close until the final round, when Callahan gained the advantage and won the fight. However, for Salutat, Eakins chose to depict Smith as the winner. In the work, Smith raises his hand to salute the audience, in the style of a gladiator. On the painting’s original frame Eakins carved the words “DEXTRA VICTRICE CONCLAMANTES SALVTAT” (With the victorious right hand, he salutes those shouting [their approval]).

As with a number of other Eakins works, the rendering of the figures is extremely precise, such that it has allowed art historians to identify individual members of the audience. While working on the boxing pictures, friends would visit the studio, and Eakins invited them to “stay a while and I’ll put you in the picture.” For Salutat, audience members include Eakins’s friend Louis Kenton (wearing eyeglasses and a bow tie), sportswriter Clarence Cranmer (wearing a bowler hat), David Jordan (brother of Letitia Wilson Jordan, whom Eakins painted in Portrait of Letitia Wilson Jordan), photographer Louis Husson (next to Jordan), Eakins’s student Samuel Murray, and Eakins’s father Benjamin Eakins.

Smith is bathed in soft white light, which illuminates his muscles. Amid a general tonality of warm greys and browns that contains no strong chromatic notes, the skin tones of the three main figures are pale. All three men have the quality of relief sculpture, and with Smith’s figure separate from those of his seconds, they appear to move across the canvas in an arrangement reminiscent of a frieze.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) 'Salutat' 1898


Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Oil on canvas
50 in. x 40 in. (127 cm x 101.6cm)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, gift of anonymous donor
Replica of Thomas Eakins’ original frame created and given as a partial gift by Eli Wilner & Company with the additional support of Maureen Barden and David Othmer



Katz told Windy City Times that being defined as a homosexual “was both a gift and a problem” for queer people during those years, depending on how the word affected their daily lives. For some, it clarified who they were and that was a benefit to them while for others their sexual possibilities were limited otherwise people would define them as a homosexual.

“The reason this is important is previously same-sex desire was understood not as a noun but as a verb,” said Katz. “It was something you did, not something you are. What we are trying to do is assess what happens after the identity category was created and a group of people fell under that name. The important theoretical point I am trying to make is that as language grew increasingly strict and binary, the menu of sexual and gender possibilities that was open to everybody grew increasingly constricted. What resulted out of that is as language became increasingly impoverished regarding sexuality and gender, art took up the slack. Art started to represent all sorts of sexual possibilities that language could no longer understand or name.” …

“These works will be looked at not just in the Euro-American frame, but in a global frame,” said Katz. “We are also assessing how, for example, following the lines of colonial domination European ideas were imposed over more local sexual definitions and names. What we have really is the first imaging of the first homosexuals. What is remarkable about this is some of these are among the most famous paintings among the most famous painters in their respective regions, but they have not been gathered under this rubric. The images are known, they just have not been interpreted in this way.” …

“This show resolutely demonstrates that we, as queer people, have a history, too – a rich, complex history that has been left out of the prevailing accounts of art history,” said Willis. “Too often we hear the accusation that queer, trans, and non-binary identities are something ‘new,’ and thus something without a history. The exhibition shuts down any such allegation, resurfacing this ‘lost’ generation of modern LGBTQ ancestry.” …

“I think this exhibition will begin to open up or underscore the way in which our language of binaries is way too delimited and poor of frame to understand the complexities of human behavior,” said Katz. “What this show does, and what art is great at because it does not have to use language, is depict all these variations. You will see therefore a range of possibilities of gender and sexual desire that our language does not have words for.”

Carrie Maxwell. “Jonathan D. Katz previews his upcoming ‘First Homosexuals’ exhibit,” on the Windy City Times website 17th September 2022 [Online] Cited 05/11/2022


Louise Abbéma (French, 1853-1927) 'Sarah Bernhardt et Louise Abbéma sur un lac' 1883


Louise Abbéma (French, 1853-1927)
Sarah Bernhardt et Louise Abbéma sur un lac
Oil on canvas
63 x 82.7 x 1.2 in (framed)
Collections Comédie-Française



Louise Abbéma (30 October 1853 – 29 July 1927) was a French painter, sculptor, and designer of the Belle Époque. …

She was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon, where she received an honourable mention for her panels in 1881. Abbéma was also among the female artists whose works were exhibited in the Women’s Building at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A bust Sarah Bernhardt sculpted of Abbéma was also exhibited at the exposition.

Abbéma specialised in oil portraits and watercolours, and many of her works showed the influence from Chinese and Japanese painters, as well as contemporary masters such as Édouard Manet. She frequently depicted flowers in her works. Among her best-known works are The Seasons, April Morning, Place de la Concorde, Among the Flowers, Winter, and portraits of actress Jeanne Samary, Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Charles Garnier. …


New Woman

As educational opportunities were made more available in the 19th century, women artists became part of professional enterprises, including founding their own art associations. Artwork made by women was considered to be inferior, and to help overcome that stereotype women became “increasingly vocal and confident” in promoting women’s work, and thus became part of the emerging image of the educated, modern and freer “New Woman”. Artists then, “played crucial roles in representing the New Woman, both by drawing images of the icon and exemplifying this emerging type through their own lives,” including Abbéma who created androgynous self-portraits to “link intellectual life through emphasis on ocularity”. Many other portraits included androgynously dressed women, and women participating in intellectual and other pastimes traditionally associated with men.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943) 'Berlin Ante War' 1914


Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
Berlin Ante War
Oil on canvas with painted wood frame
34 x 43 in.
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: gift of Ferdinand Howald


“Berlin Ante War” (1914), or “Prewar,” explores the profound impact the city had on the artist.



Marsden Hartley (January 4, 1877 – September 2, 1943) was an American Modernist painter, poet, and essayist. Hartley developed his painting abilities by observing Cubist artists in Paris and Berlin. …


German sympathies

In April 1913 Hartley relocated to Berlin, the capital of the German Empire where he continued to paint, and became friends with the painters Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. He also collected Bavarian folk art. His work during this period was a combination of abstraction and German Expressionism, fuelled by his personal brand of mysticism. Many of Hartley’s Berlin paintings were further inspired by the German military pageantry then on display, though his view of this subject changed after the outbreak of World War I, once war was no longer “a romantic but a real reality”.

Two of Hartley’s Cézanne-inspired still life paintings and six charcoal drawings were selected to be included in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York.

In Berlin, Hartley developed a close relationship with a Prussian lieutenant, Karl von Freyburg, who was the cousin of Hartley’s friend Arnold Ronnebeck. References to Freyburg were a recurring motif in Hartley’s work, most notably in Portrait of a German Officer (1914). Freyburg’s subsequent death during the war hit Hartley hard, and he afterward idealised their relationship. Many scholars interpreted his work regarding Freyburg as embodying homosexual feelings for him. Hartley lived in Berlin until December 1915.

Hartley returned to the U.S. from Berlin as a German sympathiser following World War I. Hartley created paintings with much German iconography. The homoerotic tones were overlooked as critics focused on the German point of view. According to Arthur Lubow, Hartley was disingenuous in arguing that there was “no hidden symbolism whatsoever”. …

Hartley was not overt about his homosexuality, often redirecting attention towards other aspects of his work. Works such as Portrait of a German Officer and Handsome Drinks are coded. The compositions honour lovers, friends, and inspirational sources. Hartley no longer felt unease at what people thought of his work once he reached his sixties. His figure paintings of athletic, muscular males, often nude or garbed only in briefs or thongs, became more intimate, such as Flaming American (Swim Champ), 1940 or Madawaska – Acadian Light-Heavy – Second Arrangement (both from 1940). As with Hartley’s German officer paintings, his late paintings of virile males are now assessed in terms of his affirmation of his homosexuality.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Duncan Grant (British, 1885-1978) 'Bathers at the Pond' 1920-1921


Duncan Grant (British, 1885-1978)
Bathers at the Pond
Oil on canvas
35 x 19 in.
© Estate of Duncan Grant. All rights reserved, DACS London / ARS, New York



Duncan James Corrowr Grant (21 January 1885 – 8 May 1978) was a British painter and designer of textiles, pottery, theatre sets and costumes. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group.


Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand, 1869-1947) 'Friends (Double Portrait)' [Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders] 1922-1923


Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand, 1869-1947)
Friends (Double Portrait) [Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders]
Oil on canvas
24 x 30.3 in.
Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago



Frances Mary Hodgkins (28 April 1869 – 13 May 1947) was a New Zealand painter chiefly of landscape and still life, and for a short period was a designer of textiles. She was born and raised in New Zealand, but spent most of her working life in England. She is considered one of New Zealand’s most prestigious and influential painters, although it is the work from her life in Europe, rather than her home country, on which her reputation rests.

Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders were artists and taught art at the Manchester Girls High School. They were friends and supporters of artist Frances Hodgkins.


There is in Hodgkins’s life, however, evidence of an unconventional existence, supported, populated, and propelled by a roll call of LGBTQI+ people, including: Jane Saunders, Hannah Ritchie, Amy Krause, Dorothy Selby, Arthur Lett Haines, Cedric Morris, Norman Notley, David Brynley, Geoffrey Gorer, Christopher Wood, Philip and Lady Ottoline Morrell, Duncan Grant … and many more. While this is not proof that Hodgkins was a lesbian (if that should even be necessary), it signals an openness to a queer world – its people and their relationships – that makes for a fascinating investigation. …

In the early-to-mid-1920s, she lived off and on with lesbian partners Jane Saunders and Hannah Ritchie. These were desperate years for Hodgkins. Ritchie and Saunders housed and fed her, and gave her financial support in the form of an allowance. When Hodgkins was seriously thinking of returning to New Zealand, they gave her reason to stay in the United Kingdom. …

Ritchie and Saunders, both students of Hodgkins since 1911 and 1912, drew her into their milieu of influential literary and artistic friends. Their network included Forrest Hewit, chairman of the Calico Printers’ Association who helped her secure a job as a designer on a salary of £500 a year. The job-offer came just a month before Hodgkins was due to return home to New Zealand and changed the course of her life forever.

Joanne Drayton. “Frances Hodgkins: A portrait of queer love,” on the Te Papa Tongarewa website Nd [Online] Cited 06/11/2022


Unknown photographer. 'Hannah Richie, Frances Hodgkins, and Jane Saunders seated in a garden' c. 1925


Unknown photographer
Hannah Richie, Frances Hodgkins, and Jane Saunders seated in a garden
c. 1925
Cellulose triacetate copy negative
12.5 x 10cm
National Library of New Zealand

Please note: Photograph not in exhibition



Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses Berlin Ante War by Mardsen Hartley.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky



Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses Salutat by Thomas Eakins.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky.
Introductory clip: A Representation of Loïe Fuller and her “Serpentine Dance” produced by Pathé Frères in 1905.



Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses the work of Louise Abbéma.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky.



Wrightwood 659
659 W. Wrightwood
Chicago, IL 60614

Opening hours:
Friday 12 – 7pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm

Wrightwood 659 website


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Exhibition: ‘Gerda Wegener’ at ARKEN Museum for Moderne Kunst, Ishøj, Denmark

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2015 – 8th January 2017

GERDA WEGENER: The unusual story of a love between painter and muse that transcends gender boundaries



Gerda Wegener. 'Lili with a Feather Fan' 1920


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Lili with a Feather Fan
Photo: Morten Pors



Just a small comment on this posting as I am still recovering from a root canal operation at the dentist.

A fascinating, historically significant, love affair. Beautiful, stylish art painted with panache and flare. The two intertwined as, “The depictions of Lili are quite central to Gerda Wegener’s oeuvre.”

Much admiration and love to both.


Many thankx to ARKEN for allowing me to publish the art work and texts in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Read an extract from the catalogue on ISSU.


Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) is an outstanding figure in Danish art. As a woman artist she uniquely depicts the beauty of women with equal proportions of empathy and desire. Flirting girls, glamorous divas and sensual women are among Gerda Wegener’s favourite subjects. And to these we can add the pictures of her transgender spouse, Lili Elbe, who developed her female identity as a model in Gerda Wegener’s art. Gerda Wegener’s ambivalent sexuality and the story of her spouse were too difficult for people to relate to in her time. On the whole, she broke down the boundaries of gender and sexual identity.

Today the themes of her works are highly topical. Transgender people have loomed large in the mass media, and trans icons like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner give the transgendered a voice in popular culture. Hollywood has seized on the story of Lili and Gerda, and the film The Danish Girl will have its Danish premiere in February 2016. In the biggest exhibition so far of the work of this pioneering artist we meet an experimental zest for life from the colourful, abandoned 1920s which hits a nerve in our own time.





“Woman must unleash her womanly instincts and qualities, play on her feminine charm, and win the competition with man by virtue of her womanliness – never by trying to imitate him.”

Gerda Wegener, 1934


“Einar Wegener felt like a person who was forced to go around in a costume that stifled him and in which he felt ridiculous.”

Lili Elbe, 1931


“Once one has found Paris, one cannot imagine living anywhere else. Although I love Italy, when I return and smell Paris, then I am happy.”

Gerda Wegener, 1924



Gerda Wegener. 'Lady in a large hat' 1909


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Lady in a large hat



Painter and muse

In 1904 Gerda Wegener, born Gottlieb, married the landscape painter Einar Wegener (1882-1931), who is known today as the trans woman Lili Elbe. Lili was Gerda Wegener’s favourite model, and together they created a place of freedom in art where Lili could live out her female identity. In 1930 Gerda Wegener supported her spouse when Lili became one of the first in history to undergo a series of gender-modifying operations in order to become a woman both physically and legally. She died the next year as a result of complications after a last operation.

In her art Gerda Wegener is profoundly fascinated by people’s games with identity through dressing-up, masks and theatre. In the depictions of Lili, Lili poses as a woman in make-up, a succession of wigs, dresses, shoes and exotic fans. We come close to the couple’s friendship and love as each other’s painter and muse across the normal gender boundaries.


Gerda Wegener. 'Portrait of Ellen von Kohl' 1906


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Portrait of Ellen von Kohl



A controversial work rediscovered

“After many years in the wilderness a harbinger of spring has once more appeared in Danish art.”

The artist Gudmund Hentze on Gerda Wegener’s Portrait of Ellen von Kohl in Politiken in 1907.


One of the biggest disputes in the history of Danish art followed from the rejection of Gerda Wegener’s Portrait of Ellen von Kohl (below) by both the Charlottenborg Exhibition and Den Frie Udstilling in 1907. It led to a storm of contributions to the newspaper Politiken for and against the spiritualised, refined Symbolism that the picture was taken to represent. The opponents were given the name “the Peasant Painters”. Wegener herself remained outside the “Peasant Painter Feud” but organised her own exhibition of the picture at an art dealer’s. Afterwards the work has never been shown, but now it has been rediscovered and hangs at ARKEN so everyone can see it for themselves and think about how the portrait could divide opinion so much on the Danish art scene in 1907.

Ever since. the work has been known from an old black-and-white photograph, but in 2015 it has been found for ARKEN’s exhibition and photographed in colour, and it is now being exhibited again for the first time since 1907. This provides a suitable occasion to note that there is nothing wrong with the technical execution. Ellen von Kohl sits like a Renaissance woman in a 16th-century portrait, viewed obliquely from the side with her face turned towards us. The dress, the background and the hair are in the darker colour, while the face, the skin in the neck opening of the dress and the beautiful hands are in lighter shades. The long, slender fingers are typical of Gerda Wegener’s visual idiom, elegant and mannered. To these we can add the strangest thing in the picture, the only thing that our eyes tell us may have seemed objectionable – the eyes and the woman’s gaze. The is are not clearly open. Ellen von Kohl both sees and does not see. She appears to be half in a trance, present not only in this world, but also in the one she sees with her mind’s eye. The model is not a worn-out old women “with mittens and a back bent by work”, but a well-dressed, highly cultivated and sensitive being, so sensitive that for better or worse she seems sensual and erotic to the viewers of the time…

The portrait has several resemblances to a number of other portraits by Gerda Wegener in these early years in Copenhagen, which typically show women who were themselves active in various arts such as literature, dance, or theatre. Many have a similar gaze, and they are all shown with the greatest possible beauty.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 17


Gerda and Einar Wegener in front of Gerda’s painting Sur la route d'Anacapri during the exhibition in Ole Haslunds Hus,1924. Photo The Royal Library, Denmark


Gerda and Einar Wegener in front of Gerda’s painting Sur la route d’Anacapri during the exhibition in Ole Haslunds Hus, 1924
Photo: The Royal Library, Denmark


Gerda Wegener. 'Sur la route d'Anacapri (On the Way to Anacapri)' 1922


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Sur la route d’Anacapri (On the Way to Anacapri)



Gerda Wegener also drew and painted several pictures of Gerda and Lili together. In 1922 she painted one of the finest examples on one of the couple’s many journeys to Italy, including several to Capri – the double portrait On the Way to Anacapri (above). Gera and Lili are seen standing in profile in front of a magnificent view of a sea bay in moonlight surrounded by mountains and with the town below. Lili turns her head and looks directly at the viewer, holding her arm fondly and protectively around Gerda. Gerda looks forward dreamily with an apple in her hand. Both women wear make-up as well as jewellery and dresses in red shades. Lili is tallest and brownest; their rings are identical. The picture is painted in delicate colours and has an almost ethereal, dreamlike lightness as if the moment is timeless. Again there is a certain Renaissance atmosphere, especially in the strict profile of the self-portrait…

It is as if this particular borrowing of the formal language of of a bygone time elevates the scenario beyond time and space and gives it the character of the eternal. The works take on a special meaning, showing both Gerda’s and the couple’s love of Italy, art, beauty and each other.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 21


Gerda Wegener. 'Two Cocottes with Hats' c. 1925


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Two Cocottes with Hats
c. 1925
Photo: Morten Pors



In Gerda Wegener’s Two Cocottes with Hats, 1920s, it is presumably Lili in the light-coloured wig with flowers and feathers in her hair, who looks at us with seductive bedroom eyes. In her hands she holds the symbol of the female sex, a rose whose scent permeates the atmosphere of the picture and probably helps to attract the other woman’s attention. The two stand close to each other and are further united by the compositions close cropping of the subject.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 26


Gerda Wegener. 'On the banks of the Loire' (the artists' colony at Beaugency), Paris, 1926


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
On the banks of the Loire (the artists’ colony at Beaugency)
Paris, 1926



The female gender role in transition

In Gerda Wegener’s On the banks of the Loire, 1926, we see innumerable Bohemians from the artists’ colony on a summer’s day in swimsuits far from the city of Paris…

For female artists just a generation before Gerda Wegener’s it was not possible at all for a woman to move around freely in the spaces of the city without being accosted and misunderstood. The definition of the Impressionists as ‘the painters of modern life’, for example, is therefor problematic in the case of an artist like Berthe Morisot. Gerda Wegener on the other hand romped freely through city life, whether this was well received or not. At any rate it became normal – not least during the First World War, when the french men were at the front, and the women had to take over many of the men’s former tasks. The women grew stronger… After World War One, Europe was traumatised, and the survivors lived wilder lives than before – quite simply so they could feel alive. The 1920 were thus typified by festivities and amusements and by gender roles in transition. Everything was permitted, much more so than before.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 28


Gerda Wegener. 'A Summer Day' (Einar Wegener behind the easel, Lili nude, Elna Tegner with accordion, publisher wife Mrs. Guyot with book) 1927


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
A Summer Day (Einar Wegener behind the easel, Lili nude, Elna Tegner with accordion, publisher wife Mrs. Guyot with book)
Photo: © Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers



The painter and illustrator Gerda Wegener aroused a furore in Denmark, but was fêted in Paris because of her sophisticated line and her elegant portraits of women. In November ARKEN presents the biggest exhibition so far of works by the pioneering artist whose life and works strike a chord in our own time.

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) was a woman ahead of her time. It was not in the cards that this minister’s daughter from eastern Jutland would become Denmark’s foremost exponent of Art Deco and one of the most colourful personalities of her time. In 1904, she married the landscape painter Einar Wegener (1882-1931) who today is better known as the trans woman Lili Elbe. Paris was to be the city where they unfolded their artistic careers. There the couple lived a fashionable life, enabled to a great extent by Gerda’s success as a portrait painter and an illustrator for the leading fashion magazines. Decadent, frivolous Paris also made it possible for them to live out their controversial love affair in which playing with gender and identity became the central focus.


A tale of metamorphosis

La Vie Parisienne, La Baïonnette and Le Rire – Gerda Wegener’s technically superb and sometimes daring drawings could be found in the leading French periodicals of the time, and often it was her spouse who posed for her. The depictions of Lili are quite central to Gerda Wegener’s oeuvre. Gerda Wegener idealised Lili’s tall, elegant figure, the gloved hands and the wistful face crowned by a succession of wigs. But outside the canvas too Einar dreamed of merging with his wife’s depictions of Lili. He was unhappy in his male body and Gerda supported her husband in having the operations done that were to effect the physical transformation from man to woman, but ended in Lili’s early death.


Renewed topicality

ARKEN’s exhibition is a tribute to a strong artist whose works and extraordinary life strike a chord in our own time. With 178 works the exhibition will be the biggest ever of her work – and one of the first at any art museum. While in Paris Gerda Wegener won great recognition and fame – among other things three of her works were incorporated in the Louvre’s collection and are today at the Centre Pompidou – she never achieved the same status here in Denmark, because she was a woman, because she also expressed herself in commercial mass culture, and because her ambivalent sexuality and the story of her marriage were too difficult to relate to.

Press release from ARKEN


Gerda Wegener, advertisement for powder in the French magazine La Vie Parisienne, 5 June 1920


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Advertisement for powder in the French magazine La Vie Parisienne, 5 June 1920


Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the erotic book 'Les Délassements de l’Éros' 1925


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Illustration for the erotic book Les Délassements de l’Éros
Photo: Morten Pors


Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the erotic book 'Les Délassements de l’Éros' 1925


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Illustration for the erotic book Les Délassements de l’Éros


Front page illustration by Gerda Wegener for the Danish magazine 'Vore Damer', 19 October, 1927


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Front page illustration for the Danish magazine Vore Damer, 19 October, 1927


Gerda Wegener. ' Girl and pug in an Automobile' (sketch for front page illustration in Vore Damer, 1927) c. 1927


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Girl and pug in an Automobile (sketch for front page illustration in Vore Damer, 1927)
c. 1927


Gerda Wegener. 'The Carnival' c. 1925


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
The Carnival
c. 1925
Photo: Morten Pors



A Danish Parisienne

Gerda Wegener divided opinion in Copenhagen, but enjoyed great success in Paris, where she and Lili lived for two decades from 1912. They participated enthusiastically in the Parisian entertainment world, as is evident from Gerda Wegener’s many depictions of festivities and carnivals. Gerda quickly became a popular portrait painter and exhibited at the most important annual art exhibitions in Paris, and even in the French Pavilion at the World Exposition in 1925, where she won two gold medals. She provided illustrations, especially of erotic literature, and designed glass mosaics for Parisian shops and prosperous homes.

None of the major Danish art museums bought any of Gerda Wegener’s works, but the French State bought three. Today these are in the Centre Pompidou’s collection – and two of them can be seen at ARKEN’s major exhibition.


Artist, illustrator and cartoonist

Throughout her artistic life Gerda Wegener worked with both art in the traditional sense and popular mass culture. She alternated between participating in important art exhibitions, primarily in Paris, and supplying huge numbers of advertisements, newspaper and magazine drawings and book illustrations in the fields of fashion, satire, humour and the erotic.

Gerda Wegener had her breakthrough as an illustrator in 1908 when she won a drawing competition in Politiken with the set task of portraying ‘Copenhagen Woman’ and again in 1909 with ‘Figures of the Street’. After this she had a regular association with Politiken as an artist. At the same time Gerda Wegener supplied drawings to several other magazines such as Klods Hans, Tik-Tak and Vore Damer, and in France her drawings for leading French magazines were her primary source of income until the middle of the 1920s.


Gerda Wegener. 'Lili Elbe' c. 1928


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Lili Elbe
c. 1928


Gerda Wegener. 'Queen of Hearts (Lili)' 1928


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Queen of Hearts (Lili)
Photo: Morten Pors



Gerda Wegener was a curious observer in this whole period as she participated in life in the metropolis of Paris. In her innumerable pictures of women she accordingly revealed very different female types, just as the pictures of Lili send out a wide variety of signals. Lili who is often sweet and innocent looks rather like a provocative sinner in Queen of Hearts from 1928. Here she is playing cards, which in the history of art has always been symbolic of a life of sin, and in the sixteenth century was regarded as ungodly. An ashtray, a bottle and a glass are on the table, and Lili has a cigarette in her mouth. She has her feet up on two different chairs and is wearing snakeskin shoes and a red dress that has slipped slightly down along her legs, revealing the petticoat. The room in which Lili sits is more well-defined than in most other Lili portraits and is full of realistic details. The picture is no longer detached from time and place or ethereal. The hands are not long and graceful. It is the real Lili of flesh and blood that we see here, an emancipated and erotically self-assured woman. And so it is naturally the Queen of Hearts that she holds in her hand.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 28


Gerda Wegener. 'The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana' Paris, 1927


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana
Paris, 1927
Photo: The Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre



In Poulsen, Gerda Wegener cultivated the perfect classical ideal of beauty for a woman. Ulla Poulsen was well known for her pure, oval face and could have posed from the most beautiful Madonnas of the Italian Renaissance. She met the Wegeners during a tour of Paris in 1927 and ever afterwards appeared in many of Wegener’s works, both when she has posed and when Gerda depicted her from memory.

In the best known and most monumental portrait of Ulla Poulsen the ballerina takes her bow after a performance of the ballet Chopiniana. A typical Wegener bouquet lies on the edge of the stage, and in Toulouse-Lautrec fashion a little piece of a bass or cello projects from the orchestral pit. Again the light beams shine down over the main figure in a fan pattern, and the ballet skirt spreads around her in a circle. The ballerina is set up as the most beautiful imaginable object for the viewer’s gaze, as is the point of ballet and theatre, for the delectation of everyone. The awareness that someone is looking is so to speak a condition of all theatre, and for that matter of the existence of the phenomenon of fashion – another of Gerda Wegener’s favourite fields.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 32


Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) 'Eva Heramb' 1934


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Eva Heramb
Photo: Photo: The Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre



Eva Betty Koefoed Heramb (24th November 1899 in Aarhus – 9th January 1957 in Copenhagen ) was a Danish actress. She made her debut in 1921 at Odense Theatre, at which theatre she was employed the following six years. From 1927-1935 she was engaged to the People’s Theatre, where she received a variety of roles, including appearances in this period with several other Copenhagen theatres. She also recorded a few films.


Gerda Wegener. 'Young Man, Bare Chested' 1938 and 'Adrienne Sipska' Paris 1925


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Young Man, Bare Chested

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Adrienne Sipska
Paris 1925



The mixture of sources of inspiration and materials is yet another characteristic of Art Deco – and in the portrait of the short-haired, long-necked Adrienne Sipska from 1925 Gerda Wegener has painted the hard with gold. The young man she paints with a bare chest in 1938, on the other hand, has soft locks on his brow and marked, almost feminine facial features. Men and women cross over imperceptibly in many of Gerda Wegener’s pictures as the boundaries between the normal gender roles are gradually erased more and more.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 30


Gerda Wegener. 'Carnival, Lily' Paris, 1928


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Carnival, Lily
Paris, 1928


Gerda Wegener. 'At the mirror' 1931-1936


Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
At the mirror



In Gerda Wegener’s At the mirror, 1931-1936 (above), the directions of the gazes are more complicated. A woman sits in front of the mirror and forms a beautiful S-shape with the low-cut back and neck of her dress and the turning of her head. She looks herself deep in the eyes. We see he both from the back in front of the mirror and her face from the front in the mirror. In the mirror we also see an elegantly dressed man, presumably standing more or less where we are conceived as standing, looking at the woman’s beautiful neck with a slightly worried expression. For she is not looking at him, although she is well aware that he is there. Nor is it certain that it is only for him that she is putting on make-up. He is like a perplexed voyeur who has been discovered. He seems a little superfluous as a moment of profound solidarity arises between the woman and her ‘sister’ in the mirror.

Gerda Wegener does not only depict empty decorative dolls, but also strong personalities who stage themselves as beautiful women and exercise much of the power at play in their relations with other people. ‘Girl Power’, quite simply.

As mentioned, a viewer is always latently present in Wegener’s works, as the figures are so aware of the signals they are sending out. The women display themselves with a clear exhibitionistic tendency which is taken to extremes in the pictures of theatre, masquerade and disguise. At the same time the very act of looking at themselves in the mirror is associated with narcissism. This beautiful woman in front of the mirror and in the mirror exhibits and enjoys herself at one and the same time. As always the work is charged with an intense eroticism. This woman is attracted by herself and is also ready to attract others. And these others could be of either sex depending on who is looking at the picture.

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, pp. 32-34



Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst
Skovvej 100, 2635 Ishøj, Denmark

Opening hours:
Until 31 May 2023:
Wednesday – Sunday: 11am -5pm
Thursday: 11am – 9pm
Monday – Tuesday: Closed

1 June – 31 August 2023:
Tuesday-Saturday: 11am -5pm
Thursday: 11am – 9pm
Sunday: 11am – 7pm
Monday: closed

Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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