Monday, June 28, 2010

Jeanne Mammen - Just a Pair of Eyes

"I have always wanted to be just a pair of eyes, walking through the world unseen, only to be able to see others. Unfortunately one was seen." (Jeanne Mammen)

 Jeanne Mammen, Stock Dealer, 1929

Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976) was born in Berlin, but grew up in Paris, where her parents had moved, when she was five years old. French subsequently became her second mother tongue, and it was easy for her to absorb the rich tradition of French literature and the fine arts. Already at the age of thirteen she was an avid reader, devouring contemporary French literature, and she was particularly fascinated by such visionary texts as Flaubert's Tentation de Saint Antoine, which became one of her favourite readings.

Jeanne Mammen, Woman at the Cross, 1908

She began her formal education in the fine arts, together with her older sister Marie Louise, in 1906 at the famous private Académie Julian in Paris. Both sisters continued to study painting and drawing in 1908 at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and in 1911 at the Scuola Libera Academica, Villa Medici, in Rome. Jeanne Mammen's early art work, which was exhibited in the Salons des Indépendents in Paris and Brussels during 1912/1913, already gives evidence her remarkable skill in draftsmanship. She was justified in claiming famous artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen and the Franco-Belgian Symbolists as her mentors.

 Jeanne Mammen, She Represents, 1927

In 1914, the outbreak of World War I forced Jeanne Mammen to interrupt her studies. Her family managed to catch the last train from France to Holland, to escape internment. Her father, Gustav Oskar Mammen, who had been a wealthy merchant, all of a sudden had become a foreign enemy, and his property was confiscated by the French government. Consequently the young artist found herself without any financial resources, when the exodus ended in Berlin half a year later. The years during and after the war were marked by deprivation and her struggle to survive.

 Jeanne Mammen, Revuegirls, 1928

In 1919 Jeanne Mammen and her sister Marie Louise moved into a former photographic studio at Kurfürstendamm 29. Jeanne Mammen called this green oasis in the heart of Berlin her garden, and it was to become her residence and studio for 57 years, until her death in 1976. The years from 1924 to 1934 can be dated as her realistic period, and almost all satirical journals and popular periodicals of that time displayed her watercolours and drawings, with scenes portraying the atmosphere typical of life in Berlin, both by day and by night. As of 1927 she had succeeded in supporting herself on the income from her art work.

 Jeanne Mammen, Boring Dolls, 1920s

In 1929, Kurt Tucholsky, co-editor of the famous magazin Die Weltbühne, expressed his admiration for her, and published his tribute: "In the delicatessen shop, which is unlocked to us weekly or monthly by your employers, you are about the only delicacy." A major exhibition arranged for her by Fritz Gurlitt in his art gallery in 1930 was crowned by success. In 1931/1932 Jeanne Mammen followed Fritz Gurlitt's suggestion to illustrate Pierre Louys's Les Chansons de Bilitis, variations on the theme of lesbian love which were banned from publication after the Nazis had seized power in 1933.

Jeanne Mammen, Valeska Gert, c. 1929

Jeanne Mammen rejected the cultural politics of the Third Reich, and during the time from 1933 to 1945, she no longer participated in exhibitions. She preferred to try to earn some money by pulling a hand cart through the streets of her neighbourhood, trying to sell second-hand books, journals and graphic works. She could not, however, have survived very well on this meager source of income without the help of her close friend, Max Delbrück, the biophysicist and Nobel laureate, who continued to buy her paintings after his emigration to California in 1937.

 Jeanne Mammen, Portrait of Max Delbrück, c. 1937

 More works of Jeanne Mammen you find here and here.

No comments:

Post a Comment