1898 – 1993 / German-Swedish painter of the New Objectivity
Laserstein succeeded in something that was anything but self-evident for a female artist in the 1920s and 1930s: as of 1921, she attended the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts – which had only begun admitting women in 1919 – and then secured her financial independence by founding her own painting school. She was well-networked and stood on her own two feet. From early on she participated in competitions and skilfully presented her work where it got attention: in the media. Illustrated periodicals were the key medium of the Weimar Republic, and Laserstein used them to present her art.
With well-chosen pictorial themes, she presented representations of the “New Woman” amidst society and contemporary social life – as a sporty tennis player or a casually elegant guest at a coffee house. Laserstein caught the pulse of the times and embodied the self-confident type of woman of 1920s Berlin par excellence.
At the same time, Laserstein confidently addressed her own role as an artist. By consciously and repeatedly depicting herself in a painter’s smock and with an oversized artist’s palette, she continually affirmed her status as a painter and emphasized her position in art history as an artist. Numerous paintings testify to a highly familiar painter-model relationship.
In 1930, the self-confident artist caused a sensation with her painting Evening over Potsdam, a bold work that made skilful reference to Old Masters – Jan Vermeer’s Milkmaid or Da Vinci’s Last Supper – while also reflecting the melancholic mood of a crisis-ridden society. The seriousness of those recession years is unmistakably inscribed in her paintings.
In 1937, Laserstein, as a “non-Arian” persecuted by the Nazis, emigrated to Sweden. There, she was unable to build upon the success of her Berlin years: going into exile was a profound turning point for her as a person. Laserstein’s attempts to bring her family to Sweden were in vain: her mother was sent to and murdered in the Ravensbrück concentration camp by the National Socialists, while her sister was severely traumatized by surviving the war years in Berlin in hiding. Post-war, Laserstein herself plunged into a deep mental crisis, one which she only overcame thanks to her own creative strength and existential self-definition as an artist. No matter the setback, art remained an anchor for her.
After the end of the war, the sensitive portraitist was soon forgotten in Germany. In 1987, a gallerist in London dedicated a solo exhibition to her. But even after the success in England, it took another 16 years before Laserstein’s art was shown in Germany. In 2003, twenty years after Laserstein’s death, the founders of Das Verborgene Museum, Elisabeth Moortgat and Marion Beckers, joined forces with Anna-Carola Krausse to realize the Lotte Laserstein’s first retrospective and facilitate the rediscovery of the artist and her work (which comprises 10,000 pieces). Exhibitions in Sweden, Frankfurt and Kiel soon followed. In 2019, Laserstein was honoured with a major retrospective at the Berlinische Galerie – and Germany finally celebrated its forgotten artist.