Georg Kolbe Museum in Berlin presents the exhibition «Die 1. Generation – Bildhauerinnen der Berliner Moderne» («The First Generation – Women Sculptors of Berlin Modernism»). | Photo: Norbert Bayer
Archeological & Archival, Spacial

Against All Odds

The Georg Kolbe Museum in Berlin presents the exhibition «Die 1. Generation – Bildhauerinnen der Berliner Moderne» («The First Generation – Women Sculptors of Berlin Modernism») until 17th of June 2018. The exhibition shows about 100 sculptures by 10 female artists who had the peak of their artistic careers in the time of the Weimarer Republik. They were the first famous female artists of their times – and are unfortunately somehow forgotten today.

At the beginning of the 20th century for a woman becoming a sculptor – and not a painter or photographer which wasn’t easy either – didn’t only depend on the artistic talent, but also on the possibility to face the challenges and obstacles of the society of her time: The traditional gender roles and the fact that women weren’t allowed to attend the official art schools run by the German state before 1919. So if they wanted to achieve artistic training they were forced into private schools which meant also paying fees – another hurdle their male collegues didn’t face.

For the female sculptures it was also hard to get the material for their work and to find suitable ateliers. Additionally they weren’t put past that they could handle the craft of a sculptor.

«Junger Bär» and «Berliner Bär» [1] by Renée Sintentis (1888 – 1965) are bronze sculptures from 1932 and 1956. The left one is positioned prominently in large scale at the former Berlin border crossing Dreilinden and also some other places. It is also the design for the prize trophy of the Berlinale film festival.
Sintentis was one of the models of Georg Kolbe and also a friend of the poet Joachim Ringelnatz who wrote poems about her and whom she portrayed. [2] ⠀
She loved animals and said that they were closer to her than humans; her first sculptured animals are from 1915. She created over 100 different ones and her own terriers Philipp and Oscar were her favorite models. ⠀
Preferring small scale animals was her form of protest against the monumental sculptures of the Late Imperial Germany and managed to represent her times in a modern and contemporary way instead.
The artworks of Sintentis were quite popular at her time and exhibited worldwide – one of her most famous works is «Daphne» [3] from 1930 which is also in the collection of MoMA. ⠀
In 1931 she became a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, but was expelled from it in 1934 by the Nazis. ⠀
From 1955 on she taught as one of the first female professors at the University of the Arts in Berlin, but dropped the job after one year. After the obstacles of the Nazi-times Renée Sintentis [4: self portrait from 1923; 5: sketches] luckily managed to reconnect to her early years.

«Liebespaar» («Love Couple») pictured in the front and «Drei Vögel» («Three Birds») by Marg Moll in the back are both bronze sculptures from 1928. | Photo: Norbert Bayer

«Liebespaar» («Love Couple») pictured in the front and «Drei Vögel» («Three Birds») by Marg Moll in the back are both bronze sculptures from 1928.

Marg Moll (1884 – 1977) started as a painter in Berlin as student of Lovis Corinth who also potrayed her. ⠀
She moved to Paris where she became a co-founder of the Académie Matisse. Together with her husband she was the main force behind this institution even, which was a non-commercial art school run by Henri Matisse. She was the only sculptor there after she had dropped painting completely. ⠀
Because her husband got a job at the art academy in Wrocław both moved and became part of the vivid art scene there, with Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer living in the city. ⠀
Later on they moved back to Berlin where their house by Hans Scharoun was bombed and completely destroyed in 1943 together with a major part of their work. So it was mainly by fluke that some of her early works survived. ⠀
Marg Moll’s art was first inspired by French Artist Auguste Rodin, but turned into a more formalistic and cubistic concentration inspired by Alexander Archipenko and Constantin Brâncuși later. ⠀
Her famous sculpture «Dancer» was defamed by the Nazi-Party and part of the exhibition «Gegenerate Art». It was rediscovered by archeological cravings in 2009 next to the Rotes Rathaus in Berlin together with other lost artworks from artists of the Weimarer Republik. ⠀
«Liebespaar» («Love Couple») pictured in the front and «Drei Vögel» («Three Birds») by Marg Moll in the back are both bronze sculptures from 1928. ⠀

«Krankes Mädchen» («Sick girl») by Jenny Wiegmann-Mucci (1899 – 2002) is a cement sculpture from 1933. [1] Her work is characterized by a reduced existentialism who spreads a humanistic message. «Angst» is a sculpture carved from sandstone from 1933 [2] and «Selene» or «La Luna» is a marble bust from 1936. [3]
After having travelled southern Europe she worked in Paris where she married the Italian painter Gabriele Mucchi and went on to live with him in Milan. 1937 she won a gold medal for a sculpture shown at the Italian pavilion of the International Exposition in Paris. She was an active part of the anti-fascist Italian resistance and supported the partisan movement. ⠀
After the war her works were presented three times at the art biennial in Venice. Her husband became professor at the art school in Berlin-Weissensee in the 1950-ies and both started to live in the GDR. Jenny Wiegmann-Mucci sculptured busts of Arnold Zweig and Paul Dessau amongst others and several anti-fashist monuments.

«Tanzendes Paar» («Dancing Couple») is a bronze sculpture by Milly Steger (1881 - 1948). | Photo: Norbert Bayer

«Tanzendes Paar» («Dancing Couple») is a bronze sculpture by Milly Steger (1881 – 1948).

Here we see «Tanzendes Paar» («Dancing Couple»), a bronze sculpture by Milly Steger (1881 – 1948). Steger was trained by Karl Janssen, who was professor for sculpture at the art school in Düsseldorf privately, as women weren’t allowed to attend official art schools. In 1908 she moved to Berlin and was teaching at the art school for women. Later she was chosen to be the official city sculptor in the German city Hagen in North Rhine-Westphalia, where her four oversized female nudes for the facade of the theatre of Hagen caused a scandal and made her famous throughout Germany.
From 1932 on she worked in the former atelier of Georg Kolbe. Her work was called «degenerated» by the Nazi party but more conventional works of her were shown in their official exhibition «Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung» at Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Munich 1937.
Her figures have an androgynous touch and were often inspired by modern dance – as you can see here in these two females dancing.
The poet and play writer Else Lasker-Schüler (1869 – 1945) who was famous for her bohemian lifestyle eternized her in her poem «Milly Steger» from 1917: «Milly Steger ist eine Bändigerin,/ Haut Löwen und Panther in Stein.// Vor dem Spielhaus in Elberfeld/ Stehen ihre Großgestalten;// Böse Tolpatsche, ernste Hännesken,/ Clowne, die mit blutenden Seelen wehen.// Aber auch Brunnen, verschwiegene Weibsmopse/ Zwingt Milly rätselhaft nieder,// Manchmal schnitzt die Gulliverin/ Aus Zündhölzchen Adam und hinterrücks sein Weib.// Dann lacht sie wie ein Apfel;/ Im stahlblauen Auge sitzt der Schalk.// Milly Steger ist eine Büffelin an Wurfkraft;/ Freut sie sich auch an dem blühenden Kern der Büsche.»

Her atelier was destroyed 1943 and she lost the main part of her work, which is the case for a lot of artists presented in the exhibition. The artworks on display may be small in size, but had and still have a big effect on their contemporary viewers and generations to come. Another aspect of their size is that their littleness has probably helped saving them from being confiscated by the Nazi party, because they could easier be hidden. In the end, it is almost a miracle that they survived the tumultuous wartime to show a glimpse of the prolific time in the field of sculpture a century ago. •

All photos: © Norbert Bayer


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