Sunday, 17 December 2017

Review of Jeanne Mammen: The Observer. Retrospective (1910-75) at the Berlinische Galerie

Jeanne Mammen: The Observer. Retrospective (1910-75)
Berlinische Galerie, Berlin
6 October 2017 – 15 January 2018

Outside the sphere of art historians, Gertrud Johanna Louise Mammen, known as Jeanne, is not a well-known name – not in Germany and certainly not in the rest of the world. Yet her output was prodigious, as the current retrospective at the Berlinische Galerie amply demonstrates. She was born in Germany in 1890, but her family moved to Paris where she enjoyed a carefree and progressive upbringing (including art studies at the Académie Julian, as well as at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels). In 1914, she returned to Germany and, from 1919, worked from a small fourth-floor, two-room living-quarters-cum-studio at Kurfürstendamm 29 in Berlin for more than 60 years, until her death in 1976.

During her lifetime, she gained a reputation beyond Berlin as a chronicler of life in the city, providing for herself largely by designing film posters for the then booming UFA studios and selling her illustrations to fashion and satirical magazines, including Simplicissimus, Uhu and Jugend. Especially during the 20s and 30s, when out and about, she was never without her sketchbook – several of which are included in the exhibition – capturing the goings-on in cafes, bars and on the streets. Her graphic work from this era might be likened to the new objectivity of Otto Dix or George Grosz, but whereas their works tend towards the satirical, with an underlying political critique, expressing pity or disdain for their subjects, Mammen’s drawings and watercolours, while still often employing grimace and caricature, are far more empathetic and, dare I say it, feminine, imbued with emotion, both of her own, as onlooker, and of the relationships between those depicted. The titles are often almost conversational, as, for example, You Have Beautiful Hands (c1929), depicting a chatty scene at a manicurist.

Read the full review here