Jeanne Mammen, circa 1935
© Archiv Förderverein der Jeanne Mammen Stiftung e.V., Berlin

Jeanne Mammen

With her pictures of the 1920’s, Jeanne Mammen ranks as one of Berlin’s most well-known painters and graphic artists. During the Nazi regime and in the post-war period, the uncompromising artist broke new ground and yet remained true to herself.

by Dr. Martina Weinland

Born Gertrud Johanna Louise in Berlin on 21st November 1890, Jeanne Mammen grows up in the French metropolis Paris. Here, the daughter of a well-to-do, liberally minded merchant’s family can freely develop her own tastes and styles in stable and secure surroundings: from an early age, she takes an enthusiastic interest in painting and drawing. Upon leaving school, art is the young woman’s sole focus. Together with her sister Marie Louise, known as “Mimi’, Jeanne Mammen studies painting and graphic art in Paris, Brussels and Rome.

The parents support the artistic ambitions of their daughters. The First World War signals an abrupt end to their carefree life however. As “enemy foreigners”, Jeanne and her family are expropriated and forced to flee. They escape to Germany via the Netherlands and return – with nothing – to Berlin.

Homecoming to the unknown

For Jeanne Mammen, it is a return to a foreign land. After the free and easy artist life on the Seine, the Wilhelmine subservient spirit and the Prussian philistinism come as a shock to her. Nevertheless, she throws herself into seething city life after the war.  In 1920, she moves into a residential studio at Kurfürstendamm 29 with her sister and works as an illustrator for various periodicals and magazines. With a finely pointed pen, during her nightly forays she enters backstreet places in the big city jungle even her male colleagues avoid.
Jeanne Mammen, Self portrait, 1926
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

Unlike most in her profession, Jeanne Mammen is able to live from her artistic work. Consequently, with her social portrayals of the cafés and clubs, the dance halls and drag bars, the countless taverns and streets of Berlin she becomes the reporter of the wild 1920’s. Using a gentle brush stroke and distinctive colours, she immortalises light and shadow forms. At the same time, she sketches the image of the “new woman”, who is not merely attracted to the male sex. .

Artistic protest

Jeanne Mammen becomes a highly esteemed artist, and her first solo exhibition in 1930 in Galerie Gurlitt is a huge success. However, a mere three years later it is all over: following the seizure of power by the national socialists, most of the pictorials she worked for, are banned. Mammen breaks off her working partnership with those who become a mouthpiece for the regime. Her painting undergoes a sudden and abrupt change of style: pointedly, she turns to abstract art labelled as “decadent or degenerate” by the Nazi regime. This marks the end for her career.

In seclusion, she now focuses covertly on her art, whilst financing her living with various odd jobs. In her Hinterhaus studio on the Kurfürstendamm, which remains largely spared from the war, despite heavy bomb damage in the vicinity, she draws, paints, makes models and experiments with various materials.
„Condition humaine“, Jeanne Mammen, circa 1939
© Stadtmuseum Berlin

The late work of a defiant spirit

When the war is over, Jeanne Mammen can finally exhibit her art again in public. As early as July 1945 her works are on display as part of one of the first Berlin art exhibitions after the war, at Steglitzer Kamillenstraße under the title “After 12 Years. Anti-fascist painters and sculptors exhibit”. She is also represented in the “Allgemeine deutsche Kunstausstellung” in 1946 in Dresden. In 1947, Galerie Rosen, one of the first art galleries in post-war Germany, organises a solo exhibition for her.

“I never became reconciled with Berlin. I find it vile even still. […] The whole manner of the people is alien to me.”

She paints her pictures, which take a critical look at current events, for herself and not for a market. It is not until the 1970’s, when works from the Weimar Republic start to be rediscovered, that Jeanne Mammen too also experiences renewed appreciation. She dies in Berlin on 22nd April 1976.

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