About once a week I post 700-1000 word biographies of visual artists. They are frequently, but not always, women and their work was created anywhere from the days of the Italian Renaissance to the height of popularity for Abstract Expressionist work. The mini biographies aren’t intended to be scholarly tomes cataloging the artist’s oeuvre and I don’t list a bibliography or even cite sources. Instead I basically write a paragraph of information about the artist’s life and career, a single image of their artwork, and a couple of links to other sites that provide more information and/or more examples of artwork. Each post is only a tasting spoon.
One of the regular features of the biographies is a ‘notable works’ section which includes the names and creation dates of at least 3 pieces of work. The one image I include is listed there as well. However, while it is easy to find what other people (critics and scholars) have considered to be the notable works of well known artists that is not the case with lesser known individuals. And for these artists I get carte blanche. I study their body of work and try to pick 3 pieces that I feel represents something fundamental about their career, artistic development, or their life. This was the case with my most recent mini biography of Gerda Wegener. Wegener, as an illustrator, had an incredibly large oeuvre but did not achieve much in the way of museum representation nor did she garner critic attention. For her biography I chose the work Lili Elbe to be pictured. The piece was created in 1928 and is easily the work most associated with Wegener. The other two pieces I considered notable were At the good tones altar/På den gode tones alter (date unknown) and Two women on a balcony created in the early to mid 1930s. Both are shown below.
The reasoning behind picking the two men fighting as one of Wegener’s notable pieces of work is based on the knowledge that Wegener’s first marriage was to a man who eventually transitioned to a woman and who early in their marriage, even before he presented as female to the world, would pose for her in women’s clothing. The feminized profiles of both men along with the curvaceous figure of lounging man seem to provide a glimpse, perhaps, of Wegener’s perception of men during her first marriage. The second piece Two women suggests a lesbian relationship. The women are shown facing one another while reclining on pillows and hints of understated eroticism are expressed in the women’s faces and by their delicately tapered fingers which lead the viewer’s eyes to the almost exposed breasts of the blond woman in the foreground. A tantalizing wisp of smoke blooms above them. Much of Wegener’s work completed during this same time frame in Paris is more blatant than Two Women and contains actual sex acts between women likely produced for profitable titillation. Yet this piece depicts romance and genuine affection.
Wegener’s page on Artnet contains about 400 pieces of work. These were my choices.