This 1922 study by Gertrude Sandmann (1893–1981) depicts two nude women with their backs turned to us, their faces out of view. Seated closely side by side, their heads angled towards one another, they appear deep in conversation. With a few spare lines, Sandmann encapsulates the intimate atmosphere between the two women. The artist uses the medium of drawing – well-suited for capturing fleeting, momentary impressions – to portray the encounter’s intimacy.
The identities of the models for Sandmann’s drawing are unknown. The rear view preserves the two women’s anonymity while faithfully recording the shapes of their bodies. Drawings were Gertrude Sandmann’s primary medium for expressing the seen and the unseen, visual thinking and perception, within an image. Until late in her life, the artist produced a great many drawings, including nudes and portraits of women of all ages. Numerous depictions by her of nameless female couples date back to the 1920s. At the time, there were discussions about criminalising lesbian women, who, unlike gay men, were not at risk of persecution under Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, but were nevertheless subject to discrimination in a heteronormative society. At the same time, Germany was home to a diverse and vibrant homosexual subculture that included social clubs and associations as well as queer venues such as pubs, bars and cabarets.
Despite living in a heteronormative society, the Jewish artist considered herself fortunate to be what she called a “lesbarian.” Under the Nazi regime, when repressive treatment of Jewish people was growing increasingly unbearable, her life partner of many years, Hedwig “Jonny” Koslowski, became her primary caregiver. In 1974, with the rise of the queer liberation movement in West Germany, Sandmann joined L74 (Lesbos 1974), one of the first postwar organisations for older lesbians.
Further works from the project
Untitled (Self-Portrait with Salomé), 1977
Dixie Marine, 1995
Self as Gustaf Gründgens, 1974
Siobhan in my mirror, 1992
Meeting (Parade of the Zeros), 1933–1935
Til Brugman´s Portrait , 1927
Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1952
Hairy Underarm, 1971