Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, 1929
Courtesy Sammlung Prinzhorn
1899 – 1940 / German painter of the New Objectivity movement
“Despite all my experiences, I’m stupid enough to believe in humanity.”
Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler
Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, „Schlaf“ aus „Friedrichsberger Köpfe“, 1929
© SHK/Hamburger Kunsthalle

When Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler exhibited her portraits at a gallery in Hamburg in 1929, they were received with euphoric praise by the critics. The young artist from Dresden was considered a peer of Otto Dix, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. But whereas Dix and Grosz have become world famous as proponents of the New Objectivity movement, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler has remained a fringe figure, not unlike the subjects of her portraits. Many of her works were inspired by her wanderings through the pubs, gin palaces, tenement yards and brothels. By portraying such haunts, the artist brought to light the underbelly of the so-called Golden Twenties – indeed the threat of poverty and social descent was one that hung over Lohse-Wächtler for most of her life. 

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler „Lissy“, 1931
Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler „Lissy“, 1931
Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler in selbstgeschneidertem Tanzkostüm, 1922/23
Courtesy Sammlung Prinzhorn
A life marked by critical praise and crisis

Material hardship and misfortune were to shape the biography of Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, and despite the critical praise elicited by her exhibitions she lived in poverty and was even homeless at times. These struggles were to precipitate a breakdown that eventually led to her being admitted to a sanatorium. Once there, she resumed drawing and created many empathetic portraits of her fellow patients. Her stays in mental institutions grew longer, but despite this she summoned up the strength to paint large-format pastels, emotional portraits and brutally honest self-portraits – in retrospect a devastating chronicle of the artist’s inexorable decline.

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Selbstportrait und Schatten, 1931
Privatsammlung Kreischa

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler fell victim to the inhuman Nazi dictatorship. Due to her psychological illness she was disenfranchised and forcibly sterilized by the Nazis and, as if this were not terrible enough, on 31 July 1940 she was classified as being an “unworthy life” and sent to the Pirna-Sonnenstein death camp and gassed. She was just 40 years old. 

Elfriede Lohse Wächtler, Fotograf unbekannt
Privatsammlung Bremen

A large number of Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler’s works were destroyed for being “degenerate art”, but her family managed to save 400 of her pictures. As a painter of the “lost generation”, it wasn’t until 1989 that she slowly began to gain some degree of public recognition. It is largely thanks to private art lovers and art associations that there is now more widespread awareness of the name Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler and her remarkable artworks.