Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gerda Yourselves For Pleasure: Wegener Bared at NYC Rare Book Shop-Gallery

Scène de Carnaval. ca. 1920s. [11" x 16 7/8"]
A fine selection of works by famed Art Deco book illustrator and painter Gerda Wegener is on exhibition at Leonard Fox Ltd, in the rare book dealer’s shop-gallery on Madison Avenue in New York City October 29 through November 25, 2009.

A small section of the exhibition.

Where to begin about Gerda Gottlieb Wegener Porta (1886-1940)? Many, this author included, were first introduced to the Danish artist through her spirited and playfully exquisite erotic imagery. But her initial success was as a fashion and contemporary scene illustrator for Vogue, La Vie Parisienne, Fantasio, and many other Parisian magazines; she covered the Parisian pleasure beat.

Mais Les Elements Ne Sont Plus Les Mémes. Fantasio, February, 1926.

Model and Painting. 1922. [11 1/4" x 8 7/8"]

Here’s where her story gets extremely interesting and why the contemporary mainstream had to gird themselves for the details of Gerda’s avant-garde personal life:

Night on the Town. 1925. [20" x 16"]

Cafe. ca. 1925.

In 1904, she married fellow Dane and artist Einar Wegener (1882-1931). In female guise, as "Lili," he became Gerda's favorite model. Einar Wegener eventually came out as a transsexual woman, and, in 1930, had the first publicly known sex reassignment surgery, taking the name Lili Elbe. Gerda Wegener supported Elbe throughout his/her transition. The king of Denmark declared the Wegener marriage null and void in October 1930. "Not to be" was his answer to the classic Danish dilemma.

After Lili's death in 1931, Gerda married Major Fernando Porta (born 1896), an Italian officer, aviator, and diplomat ten years her junior, and moved with him to Morocco, specifically Marrakech and Casablanca. She divorced Porta in 1936 and returned to Denmark in 1938. Her last exhibition was held in 1939 but by this time Gerda's work was, alas, largely out of fashion.

Not in the Fox exhibition: Three of the twelve watercolors in pochoir by
Wegener for Douze Sonnets Lascifs Pour accompagner la Suite
d'aquaelles Inituléeles Déclassements d'Eros
. Erotopolis [Paris]:
A L'Enseigne du Faune [M. Duflou], 1925. (Pia 363). Wegener did not sign
her erotic artwork but it is easily identified as hers by the signature
"Domino" mask-symbol located at lower right or left of her work.

Amongst the books that Gerda Wegener illustrated, often in pochoir (as the original erotic works above) are:
  • "Le Livre des Vikings" by Charles Guyot (1920 ou 1924)
  • "Une Aventure d'Amour à Venise" by Giacomo Casanova. Le Livre du Bibliophile. Georges Briffaut. Collection Le Livre du Bibliophile. Paris. 1927.
  • "Les Contes" by La Fontaine (1928-1929).
  • "Contes de mon Père le Jars" & "Sur Talons rouges" by Eric Allatini (1929)
  • "Fortunio" by Théophile Gautier (1934)
Exhibition images courtesy of Cecily at
Leonard Fox Ltd
790 Madison Avenue, Suite 505,
NYC, NY 10065.

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