Posts Tagged ‘World War One


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.



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 (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.


A controversial work rediscovered

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 spiritualized, 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 organized 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.


“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.


Gerda Wegener. 'Portrait of Ellen von Kohl' 1906


Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Portrait of Ellen von Kohl



“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 Wegener. 'Lili with a Feather Fan' 1920


Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Lili with a Feather Fan
Photo: Morten Pors


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 (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 (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 permeats 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 (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 (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 idealized 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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (1885-1940)
Lili Elbe
c. 1928


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


Gerda Wegener (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 (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 fro 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 (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 theater 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 theaters. She also recorded a few films.


Gerda Wegener. 'Young Man, Bare Chested' 1938 and 'Adrienne Sipska' Paris 1925


Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Young Man, Bare Chested

Gerda Wegener (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 (1885-1940)
Carnival, Lily
Paris, 1928


Gerda Wegener. 'At the mirror' 1931-1936


Gerda Wegener (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:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00  – 17.00
Wednesday: 10.00  – 21.00
Monday: Closed

Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst website


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Review: ‘The mad square: Modernity in German Art 1910 – 37’ at The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 25th November 2011 – 4th March 2012


Irene Bayer. 'No title (Man on stage)' c. 1927


Irene Bayer (American, 1898-1991)
No title (Man on stage)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 10.6 h x 7.6 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



This is one of the best exhibitions this year in Melbourne bar none. Edgy and eclectic the work resonates with the viewer in these days of uncertainty: THIS should have been the Winter Masterpieces exhibition!

The title of the exhibition, The mad square (Der tolle Platz) is taken from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting of the same name where “the ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period.” The exhibition showcases how artists responded to modern life in Germany in the interwar years, years that were full of murder and mayhem, putsch, revolution, rampant inflation, starvation, the Great Depression and the rise of National Socialism. Portrayed is the dystopian, dark side of modernity (where people are the victims of a morally bankrupt society) as opposed to the utopian avant-garde (the prosperous, the wealthy), where new alliances emerge between art and politics, technology and the mass media. Featuring furniture, decorative arts, painting, sculpture, collage and photography in the sections World War 1 and the Revolution, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic, Metropolis, New Objectivity and Power and Degenerate Art, it is the collages and photographs that are the strongest elements of the exhibition, particularly the photographs. What a joy they are to see.

There is a small 2″ x 3″ contact print portrait of Hanna Höch by Richard Kauffmann, Penetrate yourself or: I embrace myself (1922) that is an absolute knockout. Höch is portrayed as the ‘new women’ with short bobbed hair and loose modern dress, her self-image emphasised through a double exposure that fragments her face and multiplies her hands, set against a contextless background. The ‘new women’ fragmented and broken apart (still unsure of herself?). The photograph is so small and intense it takes your breath away. Similarly, there is the small, intimate photograph No title (Man on Stage) (c. 1927) by Irene Bayer (see above) that captures performance as ‘total art’, a combination of visual arts, dance, music, architecture and costume design. In contrast is a large 16 x 20″ photograph of the Bauhaus balconies (1926) by László Moholy-Nagy (see below) where the whites are so creamy, the perspective so magnificent.

No title (Metalltanz) (c. 1928-29) by T. Lux Feinenger, a photographer that I do not know well, is an exceptional photograph and print. Again small, this time dark and intense, the image features man as dancer performing gymnastics in front of reflective, metal sculptures. The metal becomes an active participant in the Metalltanz or ‘Dance in metal’ because of its reflective qualities. The print, from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is luminous. In fact all the prints from the Getty in this exhibition are of the most outstanding quality, a highlight of the exhibition for me. Another print from the Getty that features metal and performance is Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet) by T Grill c. 1926 – 27 (see below) where the spiral costume becomes an extension of the body, highlighting its form. Also highlighting form, objectivity and detachment is a wonderful 3 x 5″ photograph of the New Bauhaus Building, Dessau (1926) by Lucia Moholy from the Getty collection, the first I have ever seen in the flesh by this artist. Outstanding.

Following, we have 4 photograms by Lucia’s husband, László Moholy-Nagy which display formalist experimentation “inspired by machine aesthetic, exploring a utopian belief that Constructivism and abstract art could play a role in the process of social reform.” Complimenting these photograms is a row of six, yes six! Moholy-Nagy including Dolls (Puppen) 1926-7 (Getty), The law of the series 1925 (Getty), Lucia at the breakfast table 1926 (Getty), Spring, Berlin 1928 (George Eastman House), Berlin Radio Tower 1928 (Art Institute of Chicago) and Light space modulator 1930 (Getty). All six photographs explore the fascinating relationship between avant-garde art and photography, between they eye and perspective, all the while declaiming what Moholy-Nagy called the “new vision”; angles, shadows and geometric patterns that defy traditional perspective “removing the space from associations with the real world creating a surreal, disjointed image.” This topographic mapping flattens perspective in the case of the Berlin radio tower allowing the viewer to see the world in a new way.

Finally two groups of photographs that are simply magnificent.

First 8 photographs in a row that focus on the order and progressive nature of the modern world, the inherent beauty of technology captured in formalist studies of geometric forms. The prints range from soft pictorialist renditions to sharp clarity. The quality of the prints is amazing. Artists include the wonderful E. O. Hoppé, Albert Renger-Patzsch (an outstandingly beautiful photograph, Harbour with cranes 1927 that is my favourite photograph in the exhibition, see below), Two Towers 1937-38 by Werner Mantz and some early Wolfgang Sievers before he left Germany for Australia in 1938 (Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany 1933, see below). These early Sievers are particularly interesting, especially when we think of his later works produced in Australia. Lucky were many artists who survived in Germany or fled from Nazi persecution at the last moment, including John Heartfield who relocated to Czechoslovakia in 1933 and then fled to London in 1938 and August Sander whose life and work were severely curtailed under the Nazi regime and whose son died in prison in 1944 near the end of his ten year sentence (Wikipedia).

August Sander. Now there is a name to conjure with. The second magnificent group are 7 photographs that are taken from Sander’s seminal work People of the 20th Century. All the photographs have soft, muted tones of greys with no strong highlights and, usually, contextless backgrounds. The emphasis is on archetypes, views of people who exist on the margins of society – circus performers, bohemians, artists, the unemployed and blind people. In all the photographs there is a certain frontality (not necessarily physical) to the portraits, a self consciousness in the sitter, a wariness of the camera and of life. This self consciousness can be seen in the two photographs that are the strongest in the group – Secretary at West German radio in Cologne, 1931 and Match seller 1927 (see below).

There is magic here. Her face wears a somewhat quizzical air – questioning, unsure, vulnerable – despite the trappings of affluence and fashionability (the smoking of the cigarette, the bobbed hair). He is wary of the camera, his face and hands isolated by Sander while the rest of his body falls into shadow. His right hand is curled under, almost deformed, his shadow falling on the stone at right, the only true brightness in this beautiful image the four boxes of matches he clutches in his left hand: as Sander titles him ironically, The Businessman.

Working as I do these days with lots of found images from the 1940s – 60s that I digitally restore to life, I wonder what happened to these people during the dark days of World War 2. Did they survive the cataclysm, the drop into the abyss? I want to know, I want to reach out to these people to send them good energy. I hope that they did but their wariness in front of the camera, so intimately ‘taken’ by Sander, makes me feel the portent of things to come. How differently we see images armed with the hindsight of history!

In conclusion, this is a fantastic exhibition that will undoubtedly be in my top ten of the year for Melbourne in 2011.

Many thankx to Michael Thorneycroft for his help and The National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the accredited photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Berlin Radio Tower)' 1928/29


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Berlin Radio Tower
Gelatin silver print
36 × 25.5cm
Julien Levy Collection, Special Photography Acquisition Fund
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn



Over the winter and spring of 1927–28, Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy took a series of perhaps nine views looking down from the Berlin Radio Tower, one of the most exciting new constructions in the German capital. Moholy had already photographed the Eiffel Tower in Paris from below, looking up through the tower’s soaring girders. In Berlin, however, Moholy turned his camera around and pointed it straight down at the ground. This plunging perspective showed off the spectacular narrowness of the Radio Tower, finished in 1926, which rose vertiginously to a height of 450 feet from a base seven times smaller than that of its Parisian predecessor (which opened in 1889). Moholy attached exceptional importance to this, his boldest image: he hung it just above his name in a room devoted to his work at the Berlin showing of Film und Foto, a mammoth traveling exhibition that he had helped to prepare. Moholy also chose this view and one other to offer Julien Levy, the pioneering art dealer, when Levy visited him in Berlin in 1930. The following year the pictures went on view at the Levy Gallery in New York, in Moholy’s first solo exhibition of photographs.

Text from the Art Institute of Chicago website


László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) 'Photograph (Light Prop)' 1930


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Das Lichtrequisit (The light prop)
Gelatin silver print
24 × 18.1 cm (9 7/16 × 7 1/8 in.)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2014 Estate of László Moholy-Nagy / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



The Light-Space Modulator is the most spectacular and complete realization of László Moholy-Nagy’s artistic philosophy. Machine parts and mechanical structures began to appear in his paintings after his emigration from Hungary, and they are also seen in the illustrations he selected for the 1922 Buch neuer Künstler (Book of new artists), which includes pictures of motorcars and bridges as well as painting and sculpture. Many contemporary artists incorporated references to machines and technology in their work, and some, like the Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin, even designed plans for fantastic structures, such as the ambitious Monument to the Third International, a proposed architectural spiral of glass and steel with moving tiers and audiovisual broadcasts. (See Tatlin’s Tower.)

In the Light-Space Modulator, Moholy-Nagy was able to create an actual working mechanism. Although he censured capitalism’s inhumane use of technology, he believed it could be harnessed to benefit mankind and that the artist had an important role in accomplishing this. Moholy had made preliminary sketches for kinetic sculptures as early as 1922 and referred to the idea for a light machine in his writings, but it was not until production was financed by an electric company in Berlin in 1930 that this device was built, with the assistance of an engineer and a metalsmith. It was featured at the Werkbund exhibition in Paris the same year, along with the short film Light Display Black-White-Gray, made by Moholy-Nagy to demonstrate and celebrate his new machine.

The Light-Space Modulator is a Moholy-Nagy painting come to life: mobile perforated disks, a rotating glass spiral, and a sliding ball create the effect of photograms in motion. With its gleaming glass and metal surfaces, this piece (now in the collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University) is not only a machine for creating light displays but also a sculptural object of beauty, photographed admiringly by its creator.

Katherine Ware, László Moholy-Nagy, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 80 © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum


Albert Renger-Patzsch (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946) 'Harbour with crane' c. 1927


Albert Renger-Patzsch (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Harbour with crane
c. 1927
Gelatin silver photograph
Printed image 22.7 h x 16.8 w cm
Purchased 1983
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


Wolfgang Sievers. 'Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany' 1933


Wolfgang Sievers (Germany 1913 – Australia 2007)
Blast furnace in the Ruhr, Germany
gelatin silver photograph
27.5 h x 23.0 w cm
Purchased 1988
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra



The Ruhr region was at the centre of the German acceleration of industry in pre-war Germany, with rapid economic growth creating a heavy demand for coal and steel. In keeping with Modernist trends in photography, Sievers shot this blast furnace – the mechanism that transforms ore into metal – from an unusual, dynamic angle. It dominates the frame, appearing menacing and strange. Despite being imprisoned and beaten by the Gestapo, Sievers studied and taught at a progressive private art school until graduation in 1938. In that year he escaped Germany after being called up for military service, ending up in Australia.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


August Sander. 'Match seller' 1927


August Sander (German, 1876-1964)
Match seller
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, IV Classes and Professions, 17 The Businessman


Robert Wiene, Director (German 1873-1938) Still from the 'Cabinet of Dr Caligari' 1919


Robert Wiene, Director (German 1873-1938)
Still from from the Cabinet of Dr Caligari
5 min excerpt, 35mm transferred to DVD, Black and White, silent, German subtitles
Courtesy Transit Film GmbH
Production still courtesy of the British Film Institute and Transit Film GmbH


Felix H Man. 'Luna Park' 1929


Felix H Man (German 1893-1985)
Luna Park
Gelatin silver photograph
18.1 x 24cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1987
© Felix H Man Estate


Hannah Höch. 'Love' 1931


Hannah Höch (German 1889-1978)
From the series Love
21.8 x 21.0 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased, 1983



Hannah Höch made some of the most interesting Dada collages and photomontages, including Love, an image of two strange composite female. Höch’s technique of pasting images together from magazine clippings and advertisements was a response to the modern era of mass media, and a way of criticising the bourgeois taste for ‘high art’. In many of her works, Höch explores the identity and changing roles of women in modern society.



The Mad Square takes its name from Felix Nussbaum’s 1931 painting which depicts Berlin’s famous Pariser Platz as a mad and fantastic place. The ‘mad square’ is both a physical place – the city, represented in so many works in the exhibition, and a reference to the state of turbulence and tension that characterises the period. The ‘square’ can also be a modernist construct that saw artists moving away from figurative representations towards increasingly abstract forms.

The exhibition features works by Max Beckman, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, Kurt Schwitters and August Sander. This group represents Germany’s leading generation of interwar artists. Major works by lesser known artists including Karl Hubbuch, Rudolf Schlichter and Hannah Höch are also presented in the exhibition in addition to works by international artists who contributed to German modernism.

The Mad Square brings together a diverse and extensive range of art, created during one of the most important and turbulent periods in European history, offering new insights into the understanding of key German avant‐garde movements including – Expressionism, Dada, Bauhaus, Constructivism, and New Objectivity were linked by radical experimentation and innovation, made possible by an unprecedented freedom of expression.


World War 1 and the Revolution

The outbreak of war in 1914 was met with enthusiasm by many German artists and intellectuals who volunteered for service optimistically hoping that it would bring cultural renewal and rapid victory for Germany. The works in this section are by the generation of artists who experienced war first hand. Depictions of fear, anxiety and violence show the devastating effects of war – the disturbing subjects provide insight into tough economic conditions and social dysfunction experienced by many during the tumultuous early years of the Weimar Republic following the abdication of the Kaiser



The philosophical and political despair experienced by poets and artists during World War 1 fuelled the Dada movement, a protest against the bourgeois conception of art. Violent, infantile and chaotic, Dada took its name from the French word for a child’s hobbyhorse or possibly from the sound of a baby’s babble. Its activities included poetry readings and avant‐garde performances, as well as creating new forms of abstract art that subverted all existing conditions in western art. Though short‐lived, in Germany the Dada movement has profoundly influenced subsequent developments in avant-garde art and culture. The impact of the Dada movement was felt throughout Europe – and most powerfully in Germany from 1917-21.



The Bauhaus (1919‐33) is widely considered as the most important school of art and design of the 20th century, very quickly establishing a reputation as the leading and most progressive centre of the international avant‐garde. German architect Walter Gropius founded the school to do away with traditional distinctions between the fine arts and craft, and to forge an entirely new kind of creative designer skilled in both the conceptual aesthetics of art and the technical skills of handicrafts. The Bauhaus was considered to be both politically and artistically radical from its inception and was closed down by the National Socialists in 1933


Constructivism and the Machine Aesthetic

Having emerged in Russia after World War I, Constructivism developed in Germany as a set of ideas and practices that experimented with abstract or non-representational forms and in opposition to Expressionism and Dada. Constructivists developed works and theories that fused art and with technology. They shared a utopian belief in social reform, and saw abstract art as playing a central role in this process.



By the 1920s Berlin has become the cultural and entertainment capital of the world and mass culture played an important role in distracting a society traumatised by World War 1, the sophisticated metropolis provided a rich source of imagery for artists, it also come to represent unprecedented sexual and personal freedom. In photography modernity was emphasised by unusual views of the metropolis or through the representation of city types. The diverse group of works in this section portray the uninhibited sense of freedom and innovation experienced by artists throughout Germany during the 1920s


New Objectivity

By the mid 1920s, a new style emerged that came to be known as Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity. After experiencing the atrocities of World War 1 and the harsh conditions of life in postwar Germany, many artists felt the need to return to the traditional modes of representation with portraiture becoming a major vehicle of this expression, with its emphasis on the realistic representation of the human figure


Power and Degenerate Art

After the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933 modern artists were forbidden from working and exhibiting in Germany, with their works confiscated from leading museums and then destroyed or sold on the international art market. Many avant‐garde artists were either forced to leave Germany or retreat into a state of ‘inner immigration’.

The Degenerate art exhibition, held in Munich in 1937, represented the culmination of the National Socialists’ assault on modernism. Hundreds of works were selected for the show which aimed to illustrate the mental deficiency and moral decay that had supposedly infiltrated modern German art. The haphazard and derogatory design of the exhibition sought to ridicule and further discredit modern art. Over two million people visited the exhibition while in contrast far fewer attended the Great German art exhibition which sought to promote what the Nazis considered as ‘healthy’ art.


Karl Grill. 'Untitled [Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet]' c. 1926-27


Karl Grill (German, active Donaueschingen, Germany 1920s)
Untitled (Spiral Costume, from the Triadic Ballet)
c. 1926 – 27
Gelatin silver print
22.5 x 16.2cm
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles



In 1922, Oskar Schlemmer premiered his “Triadic Ballet” in Germany. He named the piece “Triadic” because it was literally composed of multiples of three: three acts, colours, dancers, and shapes. Concentrating on its form and movement, Schlemmer explored the body’s spatial relationship to its architectural surroundings. Although an abstract design, the spiral costume derived from the tutus of classical ballet.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles website


August Sander. 'Secretary at West German radio in Cologne' 1931, printed by August Sander in the 1950s


August Sander (German 1876-1964)
Secretary at West German radio in Cologne
1931, printed by August Sander in the 1950s
from the portfolio People of the 20th century, III The woman, 17 The woman in intellectual and practical occupation
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 22.0cm
Die Photographische Sammlung /SK Stiftung Kultur, August Sander Archiv, Cologne (DGPH1016)
© Die Photographische Sammlung /SK  Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney





  • Berlin’s population doubles to two million people


  • Expressionists move from Dresden to Berlin


  • Social Democratic Party (SPD) the largest party in the Reichstag


  • Expressionists attain great success with their city scenes


  • World War I begins
  • George Grosz, Oskar Schlemmer, Otto Dix, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann and Franz Marc enlist in the army


  • Grosz declared unfit for service, Beckmann suffers a breakdown and Schlemmer wounded


  • Marc dies in combat
  • Dada begins at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich


  • Lenin and Trotsky form the Soviet Republic after the Tzar is overthrown


  • Richard Huelsenbeck writes a Dada manifesto in Berlin
  • Kurt Schwitters creates Merz assemblages in Hanover
  • Revolutionary uprisings in Berlin and Munich
  • Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and flees to Holland
  • Social Democratic Party proclaims the Weimar Republic
  • World War I ends


  • Freikorps assassinates the Spartacist leaders, Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
  • Bauhaus established in Weimer by Walter Gropius
  • Cologne Dada group formed
  • Treaty of Versailles signed


  • Berlin is the world’s third largest city after New York and London
  • Inflation begins in Germany
  • National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) founded
  • Kapp Putsch fails after right‐wing forces try to gain control over government
  • First International Dada fair opens in Berlin


  • Hitler made chairman of the NSDAP


  • Schlemmer’s Triadic ballet premiers in Stuttgart
  • Hyperinflation continues


  • Hitler sentenced to five years imprisonment for leading the Beer Hall Putsch
  • Inflation decreases and a period of financial stability begins


  • Hitler writes Mein Kampf while in prison
  • Reduction of reparations under the Dawes Plan


  • New Objectivity exhibition opens at the Mannheim Kunsthalle
  • The Bauhaus relocates to Dessau


  • Germany joins the League of Nations


  • Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis released
  • Unemployment crisis worsens
  • Nazis hold their first Nuremburg party rally


  • Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The threepenny opera premieres in Berlin
  • Hannes Meyer becomes the second director of the Bauhaus


  • Street confrontations between the Nazis and communists in Berlin
  • Young Plan accepted, drastically reducing reparations
  • Stock market crashes on Wall Street, New York
  • Thomas Mann awarded the Nobel Prize for literature


  • Resignation of Chancellor Hermann Müller’s cabinet ending parliamentary rule
  • Minority government formed by Heinrich Brüning, leader of the Centre Party
  • Nazis win 18% of the vote and gain 95 seats in the National elections
  • Ludwig Miles van der Rohe becomes the third director of the Bauhaus
  • John Heartfield creates photomontages for the Arbeiter‐Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ)


  • Unemployment reaches five million and a state of emergency is declared in Germany


  • Nazis increase their representation in the Reichstag to 230 seats but are unable to form a majority coalition
  • Miles van der Rohe moves the Bauhaus to Berlin
  • Grosz relocates to New York in as an exile


  • Hindenberg names Hitler as Chancellor
  • Hitler creates a dictatorship under the Nazi regime
  • The first Degenerate art exhibition denouncing modern art is held in Dresden
  • Miles van der Rohe announces the closure of the Bauhaus
  • Nazis organise book burnings in Berlin
  • Many artists including Gropius, Kandinski and Klee flee Germany
  • Beckmann, Dix and Schlemmer lose their teaching positions


  • Fifteen concentration camps exist in Germany


  • The swastika becomes the flag of the Reich


  • Spanish civil war begins
  • Germany violates the Treaty of Versailles
  • Olympic Games held in Garmisch‐Partenkirchen and Berlin
  • Thomas Mann deprived of his citizenship and emigrates to the United States


  • German bombing raids over Guernica in Spain in support of Franco
  • The Nazi’s Degenerate art exhibition opens in Munich and attracts two million visitors
  • Beckmann, Kirchner and Schwitters leave Germany
  • Purging of ‘degenerate art’ from German museums continues 1


1. Timeline credit: Chronology compiled by Jacqueline Strecker and Victoria Tokarowski from the following sources:

  • Catherine Heroy ‘Chronology’ in Sabine Rewald, Glitter and Doom: German portraits from the 1920s, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exh cat, 2006, pp. 39‐46.
  • Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg, eds, ‘Political chronology’, The Weimar Republic sourcebook, Berkely 1994, pp. 765‐71.
  • Jonathan Petropoulos and Dagmar Lott‐Reschke ‘Chronology’ in Stephanie Barron, ‘Degenerate Art’: the fate of the avant‐garde in Nazi Germany, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, exh cat, 1991, pp. 391‐401.



László Moholy-Nagy. ‘Bauhaus Balconies’ 1926


László Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary, 1895-1946)
Bauhaus Balconies
Silver gelatin photograph


John Heartfield. 'Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish' from the 'Workers Illustrated Paper', vol 11, no 29, 17 July 1932, p. 675


John Heartfield (German 1891-1968)
Adolf, the superman: swallows gold and spouts rubbish
From the Workers Illustrated Paper, vol 11, no 29, 17 July 1932, p. 675
38.0 x 27.0 cm
John Heartfield Archiv, Akademie der Künste zu Berlin
Photo: Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Kunstsammlung, Heartfield 2261/ Roman März
© The Heartfield Community of Heirs /VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney



John Heartfield’s photomontages expose hidden agendas in German politics and economics of the 1920s and 30s. This image was published six months before the National Socialist Party came to power, and shows Hitler with a spine made of coins and his stomach filled with gold. The caption says that he ‘swallows gold’, alluding to generous funding by right-wing industrialists, and ‘spouts rubbish’.


Max Beckmann. 'The trapeze' 1923


Max Beckmann (German 1884-1950)
The trapeze
Oil on canvas
196.5 x 84.0 cm
Toledo Museum of Art
Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
Photo: Photography Incorporated, Toledo



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Galleries this week and ‘The Lost Diggers’

March 2011


It has been a busy week!

On Tuesday I visited Australian Galleries in Smith Street to view the ‘Drought Photographs’ by Sidney Nolan. A wonderful experience (review to follow). Thursday night was the opening of Manstyle at NGV Australia, Federation Square (posting to follow), the new exhibition that “explores the extremes of masculine style and some of the most influential ideas that have pervaded menswear over the past three centuries.” A lively opening with lots of milliners, designers and fashionistas but only a modicum of style from many of the men in attendance.

Friday saw a trip up Flinders Lane to visit Arc One Gallery (review of Navigating Widely by Vanila Netto to follow), Craft Victoria and drop in and say hello to Mary Lou Jelbart, director of fortyfivedownstairs and view the extensive renovations to the office and storage areas. Always good to catch up with Mary Lou. Then onward, battling terrible traffic, to the opening of New11 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) where the work was a bit ‘thin’ with a couple of notable exceptions.

Saturday saw a drive to Albert Street, Richmond to catch up with the galleries there – mostly stable exhibitions. Wade Marynowsky’s The Hosts: A Masquerade Of Improvising Automatons at John Buckley Gallery were interesting for 10 minutes or so reminding me of evil, corseted, twirling, marionette Daleks. I then had a chat with the delightful Edwin at Sophie Gannon Gallery and saw the first stages of installation of the upcoming Daniela Federici exhibition that is part of L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival. Looks to be an interesting show.



Antoinette or Louis Thuillier. 'No title (unknown Australian soldier wearing sheepskin jerkin)' c. 1916/17


Antoinette or Louis Thuillier
No title (unknown Australian soldier wearing sheepskin jerkin)
c. 1916/17

This image is published under fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review (Commonwealth of Australia Consolidated Acts: Copyright Act 1968 – Sect 41)



This is a truly amazing story – finding these in an attic!

The original farmhouse has so much atmosphere. The photographs themselves are funny, poignant, informal, beautifully shot (the photographer, either Antoinette or Louis Thuillier, had a generous eye) and exhibit wonderful camaraderie; to actually find the original backdrop and be standing in the very place where these photographs were taken sends goose bumps up the spine just looking at the video. Imagine actually being there.

Look at the details – the hands, wedding rings, muddied boots, the children clasped by diggers with smokes in their hands, the props (chairs, motorbikes, guns, plant stands), sheepskin jerkins and the signs – We will soon, be, home, All that is left of them, France, 1916-1918. Just two men. They were so young, stoic, handsome. They stare out at you across time.

As Barthes and Sontag would say, these photographs haunt you.


View the video of the remarkable story from the link The Lost Diggers.

Look at hundreds of wonderful photographs from the links below:




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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, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr 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.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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