Jeanne Mammen

Splendour and Misery in Berlin

For this magazine cover, Jeanne Mammen places a fashionable couple before a modern urban backcloth of tower blocks, rail bridges and such bright night life that the moon up above in the jet-black sky is fairly useless as a light source.

Here we can sense that Parisian flair that opened the doors of the Berlin magazine market to the artist in the mid-twenties. But this metropolitan splendour does not monopolise her view; she is aware of the misery too.

Impressions of ordinary people fill Mammen’s drawings and paintings during the great recession later that decade. In the close-packed coffee-house, she shows people of different gender, age and social origin with one thing in common: loneliness and an inability to communicate. Empty black eyes not only for the young woman short on sleep who hastily gulps her coffee but also for the bony man in the old-fashioned suit with the stiff collar nicknamed “the patricide”. Only the chess player relates to another person, but not one we can see in the picture. Mammen has painted people who are lonely together.

Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976) is one of the most complex and colourful figures in recent art history, a sharp observer who portrayed glamorous contemporaries, giddy night life and figures on the margins of society: distinctive icons of the “Golden Twenties”. After 1945 her work became abstract. The retrospective shows 170 works from a career lasting over 60 years.

Read more stories about Jeanne Mammen here.

 

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