Weimar modernity”—equal partners in love, sexuality, and marriage.
Like their American sister the flapper, they do their own thing despite all
the obstacles opposing them. Still, they seem pensive about whether this
new Babylon of hedonism and their partnership in the fun will persist.
In the Berlin illustrations, her narrative complexity with its cool execution in gossamer colors offers a gamut of urban characters. In
Liebes-geschicten (Love Affairs) she offers an intimate portrait of two women
with elegantly coiffed bobs and knee-length skirts cuddled on a sofa,
perhaps contemplating what next after a long evening at a same-sex
nightclub. Mammen treats the ennui of their expressions with empathy and brooding. The top-hatted man and short-veiled woman with a
red bob in Feine Welt (People of Fashion) are depicted with a touch of
mockery. Their aloofness—half-shut eyes, upturned chins—is rendered
in profile in the foreground, while over their shoulders a newspaper boy
shouting the day’s headlines goes unnoticed. Bei Kranzler (At Kranzler’s)
shows a café where three stylishly garbed women—fur stoles and collars, cloche and narrow-brimmed hats—appear in distracted camaraderie rather than rivalry. They are coquettish, capricious city dwellers,
as are the cool, elegant, androgynous women in Zeebrugge, who recline
against a boardwalk railing with sailboats and beachcombers at their
backs. These urban snapshots offer an undistorted look at the living conditions of ’20s Berlin and the detached, nonjudgmental attitude of its
people, a view that echoes the artist’s own.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Mammen was at the height of
her career, having become one of the few women artists able to support
herself with income from her art. But the National Socialist regime put
an end to commercial publications that did not promote the party line.
Hitler, who believed Weimar culture was immoral, declared many of
Berlin’s artists “degenerates,” and they were forced to emigrate or face
imprisonment. This exodus included many of Mammen’s friends and
While she refused any kind of collaboration and wholeheartedly rejected the Nazis’ cultural ideals, she chose to stay in Berlin. She withdrew from the established art scene and took refuge in her studio, where
she continued to work in social and artistic isolation. She had always
been frugal since leaving Paris and was able to live on what she made
selling secondhand books from a book cart, cutting leather for shoes,
and painting the heads and hands of puppets for the Reich Institute for