Dorothea Maetzel – Johannsen

Portrait Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsens, Fotograf unbekannt, 1910
1886 – 1930 / Female Modernist Artist

Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen’s cubist-expressive work was once enormously successful. Today it is hardly known, although the artist accomplished impressive things in her all too short lifespan.

Growing-up & Early training

Maetzel-Johannsen was born in 1889 near Oldenburg. As a child, she loves to retreat into nature, paint and draw – with incredible talent!

During her apprenticeship as an art teacher at the Hamburg Trade School for Girls, Maetzel-Johannsen is made aware of her outstanding talent by her teachers and fellow students. Unable to receive professional artistic training, the young artist is frustrated.

“Oh, if only I could get the education I want, how wonderful would that be. ”
Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen
In artistic harmony with her husband

Maetzel-Johannsen worked as a drawing teacher for only one year, because – as a married woman in 1910 – she was no longer allowed to work. But her marriage to the architect and painter Emil Maetzel turned out to be a great fortune for her artistic development. It was Maetzel-Johannsen’s talent that initially sparked the interest of her future husband and so the two create side by side and mutually inspire each other’s art.

“How you are always forced to let go of everything, because you do want to create something before you leave forever. ”
Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen
In the midst of the art world

Almost restlessly, it seems, the artist became involved in the art scene of the Weimar Republic. Together with her husband and artist colleague Anita Rée, she became a founding member of the Hamburg Secession in 1919. In the same year, she began to work in an expressionist way, choosing the motif of the female nude. Her work “Two Nudes with Moon Sickle” is particularly impressive and representative of this style.

Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen, „Zwei Akte mit Mondsichel“, 1919
© SHK/Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk, Foto: Elke Walford
“Essentially, she wanted to be free. She loved her children, but basically she wanted to be free. ”
Monika Maetzel, daughter of Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen (in conversation with Brita Reimers for
Founding, Creating, Traveling

The artist couple had four children, but the retreat into ordinary bourgeois life is unlike them. Together with her husband, Maetzel-Johannsen also established the Hamburger Künstlerfest and worked on commissioned works, which she received in the 1920s due to growing popularity and public recognition. She furthers her knowledge through travels to France and Sweden. She also takes inspirations from African countries’ art with its abstract form and large patterns.

Late rediscovery

Shortly after her 44th birthday, she died of a heart condition in 1930 and her work was forgotten for a long time. Only gradually, and most recently, on the 100th anniversary of the Hamburg Secession, the artist is receiving attention and her work is once again presented to the public.