Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lotte Laserstein (1898 - 1993)


Lotte Laserstein (1898 in Preussisch Holland, German Empire – 1993 in Kalmar Sweden) was a German-Swedish painter and portraitist. 

Laserstein was born in Prussia. Her mother, Meta Laserstein was the widow of pharmacist Hugo Laserstein, who died in 1902. Meta and Hugo had two daughters, Lotte (born in 1898) and Käthe (born in 1900).

After the death of her husband, Meta Laserstein moved with her daughters from Prussian Holland to Danzig, where her mother and aunt, Anna Birnbaum, lived.

In 1912 the family moved to Berlin and took an apartment at Stier Strasse 19 in Friedenau. Both of Meta’s daughters took their school-leaving certificates and went to university. In 1930 Lotte moved to Nachod Strasse and from 1931 Meta lived with Käthe on Immen Weg in Steglitz.

Meta Laserstein (b. Birnbaum) Adress: Immenweg 7
Steglitz-Zehlendorf . Born 1867 in Preußisch-Holland. Deported on the 23rd of December 1942 to Ravensbrück. Murdered on the 16th of January 1943 in Ravensbrück. 

With the introduction of the Nazis’ Race Laws, Meta Laserstein became a “first degree person of mixed blood”. In 1937 her daughter Lotte, a painter, emigrated to Sweden. Meta visited Lotte here in 1939, returning to Berlin on 3 September.

Käthe Laserstein went into hiding on 14 July 1942. During a search of their home, Meta refused to reveal her daughter’s whereabouts and was arrested on 29 July 1942. In December 1942 she was taken to Ravensbruck women’s prison, where she died on 16 January 1943.

Though severely traumatized, her daughter Käthe survived in Berlin together with her partner, Rose Ollendorf. After the war she lived with her sister Lotte in Sweden for a time but returned to Berlin in 1954 and became a teacher at the Gertrauden School in Dahlem.

Lotte received her artistic training at the Berlin academy, which she entered only a couple of years after it had opened its doors to women painters.

Here, Laserstein studied under Erich Wolfsfeld whom she admired greatly. In her final two years at the academy she was his 'star pupil'. This entitled her to her own studio as well as free access to models. She favored female models, whom she claimed were better at holding long and difficult poses.

Traute Rose was her favorite model, who became a lifelong friend of Laserstein's and features in many of her works.

Berlin in the 1920s was an uneasy, yet exciting place. The changes in society were certainly apparent to Laserstein, who was extremely modern in her thoughts. During this time women were growing in independence and were increasingly entering the workplace. Laserstein depicted the New Woman, who also adopted a stereotyped appearance of a masculine look, typically with a man's style haircut.

As a single professional woman, Laserstein can be seen to adhere to the definition of the New Woman, and her androgynous look is evident in her many self-portraits, for example, Self-portrait with cat at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery.

While Laserstein was a Jewish artist, her early work was typical of both the avant-garde New Objectivity movement and the extremely traditional backward-looking trends in German art of the period.

Her works were peopled with attenuated intellectuals such as one sees in the portraits of Christian Schad (the Portrait of Baroness Wassilko, for example), but her figures also often had a strong, cold, and athletic look that would have made them appropriate for Nazi propaganda posters.

A painting of a lady tennis player, bursting with strength, is a good example of the type. Laserstein is difficult to place conclusively in any aesthetic category. There is a sense of emotion and a connection with her models which does not appear to be suited to New Objectivity. Art historians have also argued for her placement within German Realism and German Naturalism.

Laserstein's masterpiece was the large (about 8' wide) 1930 painting Abend uber Potsdam (Evening Over Potsdam) or The Rooftop Garden, Potsdam, a frieze of friends sharing a meal on their terrace, with Potsdam's skyline arrayed in the far distance. The mood is pensive, full of ennui, and the picture achieves the deepest emotion of any of her works.

During the Nazi period in Germany, Laserstein relocated to Sweden, where she stayed in Stockholm and the city of Kalmar. She created her greatest works in the period between the two world wars. After World War II, her works consisted of inoffensive portraits which lacked the vigor of her early work.

Lotte Laserstein was rediscovered in 1987, when Thomas Agnew and Sons and the Belgrave Gallery organized a joint exhibition and sale of works she had retained in her personal collection, including Abend uber Potsdam.

In 2003, a large retrospective of Laserstein's work 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.

Lotte Laserstein’s predominant theme was people. When she left the Berlin Academy in 1927, she quickly gained recognition for her sensitive and skilfully executed portraits of characters typical of the age: fashionable urban ladies, young women applying make-up or foreign faces encountered on the streets of cosmopolitan Berlin. 

Lotte Laserstein admired the Old Masters and kept her distance to avant-garde and abstract art. Nevertheless her paintings from the Berlin time convey perfectly the spirit of the modern age. The amazing blend of traditional craft and contemporary motifs, the striking mixture of sober observation and delicate brush work have lost nothing of their fascination until today. 

In 1933 the promising career came to en end. The National Socialists declared Lotte Laserstein a “three-quarter Jew”, and the artist was increasingly prevented from exercising her profession. An exhibition at Stockholm’s Galerie Moderne in 1937 provided the propitious opportunity to leave Germany with a large body of her works. Sweden became her “second home”. Here she lived for more than fifty years and it was here were she painted most of her works. 

Source: Wikipedia