Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jeanne Mammen - City of Women

 Jeanne Mammen, At Kranzler's, 1929

Working as a magazine illustrator in Weimar Berlin, Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976) captured a world of raucous nightclubs, smoky cafés, and vibrant street life in her stylized and often critical images. I have written a short biography of her before, Jeanne Mammen - Just a Pair of Eyes. The Des Moines Art Center now has organized an exhibition, Jeanne Mammen: City of Women (September 10 - December 12, 2010), showing watercolors from the Art Center’s permanent collection.

 Jeanne Mammen, In the Café, 1920s

When comparing Jeanne Mammen to other critical artists of the time, like Otto Dix and George Grosz, a certain resemblance in the selected motifs can be noticed, but there is quite a difference in their vision and style of portrayal. In contrast to Dix and Grosz, Jeanne Mammen's pictorial statement regarding injustice and the deplorable social conditions is neither marked by harsh denouncement, nor does it convey pity. Her portrayal of the Bourgeois, though utterly ironic, is without biting malice and condescension.  

Jeanne Mammen, Ursa Major, The Great Bear, 1920s

Mammen is also frequently mentioned in connection with Käthe Kollwitz and Hanna Höch, two artists who also showed a strong engagement in social emancipation, and whose most successful years also date to the Weimar era. In 1929, Kurt Tucholsky, co-editor of the famous magazine Die Weltbühne (The World Stage), expressed his admiration for her, and published his tribute Answer to Jeanne Mammen
"The subtle, flower-like watercolours which you publish in magazines and satirical reviews by far transcend the undisciplined scrawling of most of your colleagues, and we now owe you a little declaration of love. Your figures are clear cut with a clean feel, they are gracious yet austere, and they literally jump at you out of the paper. In the delicatessen shop, which is unlocked to us weekly or monthly by your employers, you are about the only delicacy."

 Jeanne Mammen, Untitled, c. 1930

She herself once said: "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". You can see more of Mammen's work in my Flickr set.

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