Jeanne Mammen’s Berlin Watercolors
I am a camera with its shutter open,
quite passive, recording, not thinking.
German artist Jeanne Mammen never made her personal life public.
During the ’60s and ’70s, her work began to be sought after by museums
and galleries for its depiction of the metropolitan spirit of the Weimar
Republic. Interviewers wanted to know more about her, but she was reluc-
tant to answer questions. Her artistic approach was to be an unseen eye
that chronicled the complexities of Berlin life, particularly for women.
Her artistic credo extended to her personal life. To her few friends she
described herself as a “hermit crab,” preferring to be undisturbed.
Traveling through the world largely unnoticed allowed Mammen to
see others more clearly. She was born in Berlin in 1890, the youngest
child of liberal, middle-class parents who provided their children with
an immersive fine arts education. When she was ten, her family moved
to an upscale part of Paris where she freely explored the streets alone.
Her habits as a flâneur began early. During her walks, she filled her notebooks with scenes of the boulevards crowded with people, capturing
movement, gesture, characteristic features, and the rich variety of Belle
Époque clothing styles.
She attended three prestigious art schools that attracted students
from all over Europe: the Académie Julian, where women were taught
at nearly the same level as men, the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in