“I wanted to portray the violent transformation of nature in the European periphery. I have experienced that the concept of wilderness, and virgin land untouched by humans, has disintegrated.” –Helene Schmitz
Jeanne Mammen is one of the most impressive, unusual and versatile German female artists of the twentieth century. She is frequently mentioned in connection with Käthe Kollwitz and Hanna Höch, two artists who also showed a strong engagement in social emancipation, and whose most successful years also date to the Weimar era. When comparing Jeanne Mammen to other socially critical male artists of the time, like Otto Dix and George Grosz, a certain resemblance in the selected motifs can be noticed, but there is quite a difference in their vision and style of portrayal. In contrast to Dix and Grosz, Jeanne Mammen’s pictorial statement regarding injustice and the ensuing deplorable social conditions is neither marked by harsh denouncement, nor does it convey pity, and her portrayal of the Bourgeois is without biting malice and condescension. She is the only artist of her time, who, by using her intuitive power and her penetrating eyes, succeeded in delivering precise and cunning portrayals capturing the characteristic physiognomic features, typical of people of all walks of life in the 1930s. She herself once said: “I have always wanted to be just a pair of eyes, walking through the world unseen, only to be able to see others. Unfortunately one was seen….”
The central motif, subject of her human and artistic concern and empathy, were women of all classes in the metropolis. She depicted them in their socially conflicting roles, also drawing attention to their ambivalence. The spirit of these portrayals originates from her own deep innermost experiences, which she expressed in the finest nuances, something that becomes accessible only when, after having experienced the greatest possible distance, one reaches the greatest possible closeness (E. Roters).
Jeanne Mammen’s last creative period ties in with her first one. Born at the beginning of the Symbolist movement, her early literary interests were sparked by the dreamlike, visionary subject matter, an essential ingredient of Symbolistic art, and as she navigated through her long eventful life, she never lost touch with the realms of feeling and imagination. This is quite evident in the different style periods contained in her rich body of work.