Struggle for visibility

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Poster in the entrance area to the exhibition

"Struggle for Visibility - Women Artists of the National Gallery before 1919" is the title of an exhibition in the Alte Nationalgalerie from October 11, 2019 to March 8, 2020 in Berlin. Only with the introduction of women's suffrage in the Weimar Republic in 1919 was it possible for women to take up regular art studies at the Berlin Art Academy , which they had previously been denied. But even before that, there were already successful female artists whose works had been included in the Nationalgalerie's holdings. These testimonies of female art, some of which are stored in the museum depot, combined the exhibition Struggle for Visibility into a special exhibition. In addition to well-known artists such as Käthe Kollwitz and Paula Modersohn-Becker, it also presented those that have since largely been forgotten such as the portrait and history painter Paula Monjé or the landscape painter Maria von Parmentier .


Maria von Parmentier: The port of Dieppe, before 1878

Often it was artist families in which female talents were stimulated and encouraged. They were not consistently kept away from academic training in the 18th and 19th centuries either. In exceptional cases, even studying at a major academy was allowed, even if the statutes did not include female art students. Marie Ellenrieder was the first to do this in Munich in 1813 . Admission to the Munich Art Academy was then followed by around 50 other artists by 1841, for example Louise Seidler in 1817 . In 1852, the sculptor Elisabet Ney was accepted to study art in Munich .

In 1881 , the Berlin National Gallery organized commemorative exhibitions for the two painters Maria von Parmentier and Antonie Biel . Biel reached a large audience with its coastal landscapes and seascapes. The large-format painting “The Port of Dieppe” from the Parmentier estate was shown.

Self-organization in an adverse situation

Anna Dorothea Therbusch , self-portrait around 1780

In Berlin, official art education remained exclusively male-dominated during the 19th century. Since 1867, female art lovers have organized themselves here in the “Association of Female Artists and Art Friends in Berlin” . In 1879, however, the statutes of the Royal Prussian Academy of the Arts in Berlin added the following: “Schoolgirls cannot be accepted”. It was considered improper for women to study the naked male or female body. In art criticism, there was also a widespread view that women only have a talent for imitation, but are incapable of developing free artistic creativity. But with the founding of the association in Berlin, there was a model for the founding of numerous other female art associations in Germany, to which “women's academies” were often attached as training centers. Even under the prevailing difficult conditions, participation in exhibitions and awards for female artists were successfully promoted.

Patrons for women artists

The examples and motifs for special support for women artists are widely spread. It was not uncommon for established artists to support their aspiring colleagues, as Marie Ellenrieder did for the young sculptor Katharina Felder . The painter Vilma Parlaghy enjoyed the favor of Kaiser Wilhelm II and captured him in a series of portraits. Less known, however, is James Simon's commitment to the work of the sculptor Tina Haim-Wentscher .

Art market opportunities

Sabine Lepsius: Self-Portrait , 1885

The presentation and sales opportunities for female artists expanded in the course of the establishment of a free art market in the course of the 19th century. Galleries offered the opportunity for solo exhibitions and were in contact with private collectors as well as purchasing institutions at home and abroad. Herwarth Walden , who organized the First German Autumn Salon in his Berlin gallery Der Sturm in 1913 and exhibited outstanding artists such as Gabriele Münter and Jacoba van Heemskerck , gave both of them space for solo exhibitions in the years that followed. The sculptor Renée Sintenis , who is also represented in the Berlin Autumn Salon, was shown and marketed in the Fritz Gurlitt Gallery.

Attractive Paris

At the beginning of the 20th century, Paris became a main attraction for female artists who wanted to escape all the usual obstacles of domestic academic art education. Regular studies at the École des Beaux-Arts had been possible here since 1898, and there was also a wide range of private academies at Montparnasse , including the Académie Julian , the Académie Colarossi and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière . The artists also enjoyed personal freedom here beyond bourgeois conventions, were able to look around the city and visit exhibitions without a male companion. Paula Modersohn-Becker , Maria Slavona , Dora Hitz and Sabine Lepsius , for example, made enthusiastic use of it .


  • Exhibition catalog Struggle for Visibility: Women Artists at the Nationalgalerie before 1919 . (Ed .: Yvette Deseyve, Ralph Gleis ). Berlin 2019. ISBN 978-3-496-01634-2