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International Women’s Day 2019: Three Unknown Women Artists

Lotte Laserstein, Russian Girl with Compact, 1928, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

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International Women’s Day 2019: Three Unknown Women Artists

Happy Women’s Day to all women and men (in the end men should celebrate with us!)!!! I hope that with every passing year the world will be a more hospitable place for all women and that soon we will be able to claim it equal regardless of sex. In order to make clear that in many sectors and environments women are still a discriminated group, among them the art world, today we’ll show you three brilliant but unknown women artists who nowadays are still omitted:

Broncia Koller

Broncia Koller, Frau mit blauem Kopftuch, 1934, source: Dorothea, unknown women artists

Broncia Koller, Woman with blue headscarf, 1934, source: Dorothea

Broncia Koller-Pinell (1863-1934) was a painter born in Sanok in Galicia to orthodox Jewish parents who let her begin private sculpture studies at the age of eighteen. After spending five years in Munich, in 1888 she participated with her works at the International Art Exhibition in Vienna, but her first successful show took place in 1892 at the Künstlerhaus in Vienna. Against her parents’ will, she married a Catholic man Hugo Koller with whom she had two children, raised as Christians (Broncia did not convert). Since 1903 the family got involved in the activities of the Wiener Werkstätte and the Secession inviting many members of both groups round their house. Broncia got especially close to Klimt (which is also visible in her style) and exhibited with the Secession. Although she was professionally successful and appreciated by critics, too often did she get labelled as “the talented wife of a prominent husband” (Gütersloh 1934), who was a physician. In fact, her artistic freedom was tolerated by the Jewish environment only because of her high social status, which led however to her ostracism in the art environment: she was never really accepted among her colleagues because she was a woman and because she was rich. In her art, she mostly focused on still life, genre and portraits (one would say, typically feminine genres).

Lotte Laserstein

Lotte Laserstein, Girl Lying on Blue, c. 1931, Private collection, courtesy of DAS VERBORGENE MUSEUM, Berlin, unknown women artists

Lotte Laserstein, Girl Lying on Blue, c. 1931, Private collection, courtesy of Das verborgene Museum, Berlin

Lotte Laserstein (1898–1993) was born in East Prussia in a bourgeois family. Her aunt Elsa Birnbaum ran a private painting school which allowed Lotte take up painting and drawing at a young age. After this initial formation, she was admitted to the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts and completed her master studies as one of the first women. In 1928 her career racketed as she gained widespread recognition and sold her first works but after 1933 and the seizure of power in Germany by the National Socialists, her art was considered degenerate and she was dismissed from the board of the Association of Berlin Women Artists. Her living conditions were dire but thanks to the Galerie Moderne in Stockholm she could leave Germany in exile. Although she worked there as well, she never recaptured the fame she had in her heyday. Laserstein produced mostly portraits, many of herself and a recurring model Gertrud Rose (née Süssenbach), who was her closest friend. To Lotte, she embodied the type of the “New Woman” and was so represented: as an androgynous emancipated lady with bob and loose clothes. You can see her work in March in The Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main, which holds an exhibition on her.

Teresa Ries

Teresa Ries, Witch at her toilet, 1894, The Vienna Museum, uknown women artists

Teresa Ries, Witch at her toilet, 1894, The Vienna Museum

Theresa Ries (1874-1956) was an extremely successful artist of the Vienna circles. Although initially her career began with her being kicked out of the Moscow Academy of Art for talking back to a professor, her first exhibition in Vienna attracted the attention of the Emperor himself. Overnight she rose to fame at the age of twenty-one. Despite many links with the monarchy (for example the Prince of Lichtenstein gave Ries a suite of rooms next to his picture gallery to use as a studio), she also befriended members of the Secession (Klimt invited her to exhibit with the Secessionists at the Paris World’s Fair in 1900). Ries knew that as a woman artist she needed publicity and she was very effective at self-promotion (for example she published a memoir in 1928). However, as a Jew in Vienna she didn’t have an easy life during the Nazi governance in Austria. She stayed in Vienna until 1942, when she left for good and post-war Vienna ignored her contribution to the development of Austrian sculpture.

If you want to read more on unknown women artists from the period of the Secession, read a book by Julie M. Johnson The Memory Factory; The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900.

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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