Jeanne Mammen with her sculptures late 1940s
During the years of the Weimar Republic, which followed the collapse of the German Empire, the abdication of Kaiser Wilheim II and the end of World War I – a flamboyant social scene thrived in 1920s Berlin and other cities across Germany. This vibrant community was documented by German artist Jeanne Mammen, whose work captured the spirit of the age and particularly the new freedoms felt by women in Berlin in the 1920s.
She Representes, (Carnival Scene) by Jeanne Mammen, 1928
Nightclubs, Cabarets and theatres featured daring acts, revues, striptease and chorus-line dances. They were frequented by artists, musicians and those who wanted to express their true selves following the misery of the war years.
Cafe, by Jeanne Mammen
Jeanne Mammen chronicled everyday life through her art, showing the goings-on in cafes, clubs and on the street. She worked as an illustrator, designing film posters and illustrations for fashion and satirical magazines between 1918 and 1933. Her empathetic paintings depict a diversity of class, gender and sexual expression and often focused on the ‘modern woman’ and their relationships.
Luncheon, Jeanne Mammen
In 1933, things changed. The journals and magazines for which Mammen worked, ceased publication after Hitler came to power. The art and culture of the Weimar Republic years was declared ‘degenerate’ by the Nazi’s, bars and nightclubs were shut down and artwork destroyed. Without a source of income, Mammen registered as an unemployed commercial artist. She refused to work with journals and magazines who were censoring artwork to appease the Third Reich and instead took to selling second-hand books from a handcart.
Carnival in Berlin, Jeanne Mammen
As Berlin and Germany were destroyed around her, Mammen moved away from her earlier figurative style and began experimenting with abstraction, taking influence from Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ (1937). At the end of the war, she wrote to a friend in the USA stating “… the ruins of Jeanne can be found in the ruins of Berlin …”.
Two women dancing, Jean Mammen
From the late 1940s, Mammen began experimenting with sculpture and collage, incorporating waste materials into her pictures to represent the destruction around her. After 1950, she withdrew from the art world, becoming a solitary figure.
Girl with cat, Jeanne Mammen, 1943
Jeanne Mammen continued painting up to her death in 1975. In the one interview she gave shortly before her death she said, “You must always write that my pictures were created between 1890 and 1975. …I have always wanted to be just a pair of eyes, walking through the world unseen, only to see others. Unfortunately one was seen.”
Siesta, Jeanne Mammen, 1920s
Some of Jeanne Mammen’s work can be seen in the ‘New Women in the Weimar Republic’ exhibition on at the Barbican until 19th January 2020