Partner Traute (Gertrud) Rose
Immenweg 7, 12169 Berlin, Germany
Lotte Laserstein (November 28, 1898 – January 21, 1993) was a German-Swedish painter. She depicted the ‘New Woman’ and she adopted the appearance of a masculine look herself, typically with an ‘Eaton bob’, making her look androgynous. In 1934, labelled under new Nazi racial laws as ‘Three quarters Jewish’, Lotte was barred from exhibiting in public, and in 1935 she was forced to abandon her studio. Finally, in 1937 she emigrated to Sweden. The majority of women in German-speaking Europe associated with innovative arts and literature were married or engaged in significant heterosexual relationships, although few had children. Some lived unconventionally: Hannah Hoch was bisexual; painter Elfriede Lohse-Wichtler was married briefly, then lived highly unconventionally, including a period with Gypsies and, reputedly, female partners. No well-known writer lived openly as a lesbian. Gertrud Kolmar, Annette Kolb, Jeanne Mammen, Milly Steger, Lotte Laserstein, and Nelly Sachs never married.
In Sweden, she continued to work as a portraitist and painter of landscapes until her death. The art works she created during the 1920s and 1930s in the context of New Objectivity in Germany constitute the highpoint of her career.
Laserstein was born in Preussisch Holland, German Empire in 1898. Her father Hugo (1859-1902) was a pharmacist and her mother Meta (1867-1943) was a pianist, piano teacher and a porcelain painter. Christened as a child, she grew up in an assimilated German-Jewish household. She received her artistic training at the Prussian Academy of Arts (Preußische Akademie der Künste), which she entered only a couple of years after its admission of female students. Here, Laserstein studied under Erich Wolfsfeld. In her final two years at the academy she advanced to one of his 'Atelier Meisterschüler' or 'star pupil'. This entitled her to her own studio as well as free access to models. The paintings she produced between her graduation in 1927 and 1933 in Berlin are considered to be her best works which were shown in 20 exhibits in the city's galleries and museums. Laserstein who favored female models and the representation of female lifeworlds blended "social representation with painterly presence". While her entire oeuvre encompasses approximately 10.000 works, 300 paintings and 100 drawings are verified for her Berlin years. After her emigration to Sweden, she took on mostly commissioned portrait works. Her attempts to save the lives of her mother Meta and her sister Käte from Nazi persecution by bringing them to Sweden were in vain. Her mother was murdered in 1943 in the concentration camp Ravensbrück (she is remember with a stepping stone at Immenweg 7, Berlin), and her sister survived deeply traumatized in hiding and died in 1965.
Self-portrait with A Cat (1928)
Die Tennisspielerin (The Tennis Player, 1929)
Abend über Potsdam (Evening over Potsdam)
Berlin in the 1920s was a center of cultural production as well as political and economic struggle. Laserstein painted cadavers to illustrate text books to obtain cash during the period of hyperinflation.. During this time women were growing in independence and were increasingly entering the workplace. Laserstein depicted contemporary women of many stripes and fashions, including New Woman types, who adopted a more masculine look, and female nudes. As a single professional woman, Laserstein herself embodied the New Woman, and her androgynous look is evident in her many self-portraits, for example, Self-portrait with A Cat (1928) at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery.
Her most famous paintings, for example Die Tennisspielerin (The Tennis Player, 1929), contributed to the verism of New Objectivity movement but also showed continuity with German Naturalism. Laserstein's masterpiece was the large (about 7– 8 feet wide) 1930 painting Abend über Potsdam (Evening over Potsdam), a frieze of friends sharing a meal on their terrace, with Potsdam's skyline arrayed in the far distance. The painting was so large that it needed the co-operation of friends to transport it. The elegiac scene references Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper and Jan Vermeer von Delft's Milkmaid in order to convey the particular affect, temporality and political stalemate of 1930.
During the Nazi period in Germany, Laserstein emigrated to Sweden, where she stayed in Stockholm and the city of Kalmar. She died in Kalmar on January 21, 1993.
Laserstein was rediscovered in 1987, when Thomas Agnew & Sons and the Belgrave Gallery organized a joint exhibition and sale of works she had retained in her personal collection, including Abend über Potsdam, now in the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Laserstein attended the exhibition together with her close friend and model of many decades, Traute (Gertrud) Rose.
Her painting Traute washing was the first purchase by the National Museum of Women in the Arts with its own funds.
In 2003, the first comprehensive retrospective of Laserstein's oeuvre was held in Berlin. In-depth research was carried out by Anna-Carola Krausse which was synthesized in the exhibition catalogue, Lotte Laserstein: My Only Reality.
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