Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lotte Laserstein & Friends

Lotte Laserstein "Self Portrait with a Friend" date and location unknown
Lotte Laserstein (1898-1993) was a painter whose aesthetic sprang directly from the tradition of German Realism, but a realism  filtered through formative years spent in the Berlin of the roaring twenties. She was born in Germany and at first, her timing looked propitious: she was able to enter the Berlin Academy of Arts as a student because only a few years before it had opened its doors to women students! She became a star pupil, especially favored by professor Erich Wolfsed, and winning the school's highest honors. She formed many lifelong friendships during this period of art school and shortly thereafter (including one with her favorite model, Traute Rose, whom we see in at least one these paintings.)  However, with the rise of National Socialism, things began to look bad for Laserstein's future, because of her Jewish heritage. In 1933 she was racially profiled as "a 3/4 Jew" and prohibited from exhibiting her work, as well as discharged summarily from her position on the executive committee of the National Arts Association. Ironically, three of her paintings were exhibited at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, but were banned from the German Pavilion. Things became so difficult that Laserstein presciently decided to move to Sweden in December of 1937, where she had some connections and hopes of finding a more receptive art market. She made repeated concerted efforts to get her mother and sister out of Germany (her father had already died) but in the end, only her sister came. Her mother ended up dying in Ravensbrück concentration camp.

Lotte Laserstein "Self-Portrait with Traute" 1928 location unknown

In 1938 she married a Swedish man, Sven Marcus, in order to obtain her Swedish citizenship. The couple never lived together as husband and wife (Laserstein was a lesbian) but remained friends throughout their lives.  Laserstein's talent was immediately recognized in her adopted country of Sweden and she eventually became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. She lived in Stockholm and in Kalmar, and entered onto a long and respected career as a portrait painter, as well as delving deep into landscape. Some critics have notedthat her Swedish ouevre lacked the vigor and audacity of her earlier work.  My own thought was that Laserstein had been through so much trauma: public vilification, persecution, death of close family members, and all the stresses of immigration and transplantation, that having found safe harbor she very understandably, drew in her sails and stayed quietly put. Despite the exigencies of her youth, she seemed to have the knack of making friends wherever she went, and from all accounts, lived a long, successful and happy life surrounded by the respect and affection of those who knew her.

Lotte Laserstein "Self-Portrait in Brown" 1947  Private Collection

1 comment:

Kate Stone said...

...as if it isn't hard enough already being an artist.