Published April 25, 2021
Gerda Wegener was a progressive Danish painter who became the most prominent exponent of art deco as she pioneered the bending of gender boundaries and revolutionized the way women are portrayed in art.
Wegener’s work is characterized by their frivolous and campy illustrations and subtle yet fashionable portraits of women. While her oeuvre is sensuous and tender in style, they can be compared with other champions of her time such as Jean Mammen or even Tamara de Lempicka. Wegener lived among artists, actors, and dancers in Denmark’s capital. She was inspired by the idea of performance and painted stylized, long-limbed made-up figures steeped in Art Deco aesthetics.
Wegener studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where she met her then to-be husband Einer Wegener who later became a trans woman using the name Lili Elbe. Wegener’s portraits of Elbe brought her fame and acclaim as well as her erotic illustrations and glass mosaics for Parisian patrons. She won two gold medals and one bronze for her work at the World’s Fair in 1925.
Gerda Wegener was born in Hammlev, Denmark in 1886. She loved art at an early age and began training. She later moved to Copenhagen to pursue her education at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Her career as an artist began to thrive after graduating and made appearances in the Politiken newspaper where she was the center of a controversy after one of her works was rejected from the exhibitions of Den frie Udstilling and Charlottenborg due to concerns over plagiarism. She held her last exhibition in 1939 with works displaying a simpler Functionalism style. After Elbe’s death, she struggled to support herself and move back to Denmark. Wegener died in 1940 at the age of 54.