Gerda Wegener

Danish-born painter Gerda Wegener, rejected by her peers due to her loose morals and lifestyle, is finally getting the retrospective she deserves, courtesy of the Arken Museum. Wegener was a truly free woman, unfettered by the boundaries between sexes, free to love both men and women, and whose model of choice, her husband, painter Einar Wegener, was so successful in the guise of a woman named Lili that no one ever noticed it was a man. After fleeing from the Danish capital with him in 1912, Gerda Wegener settled in Paris where she became a famous painter and fashion illustrator for magazines such as Vogue, La Vie Parisienne, La Baïonnette, Fantasio.

"Lili med fjerkost" af Gerda Wegener

Gerda Wegener, Lili with a Feather Fan, 1920.
Photo: Morten Pors

When she wasn’t drawing, Gerda was painting. She mainly painted women, in langourous poses, looking mischievous, with crimson-lined lips, and adorned with ornaments the artsiest had chosen with the utmost care. These women are often depicted as couples, as friends/lovers. In fact, it’s her shared history with her husband Einar that Wegener is describing in each of these paintings. The incredible story of a man who for the first time in history, undergoes surgery to become a women named Lili Elbe. A tragic fate awaited her, and in 1931 she succumbed to complications resulting from the final operation that was going to allow her to procreate.

Gerda Wegener, Queen of Hearts, 1928. Photo Morten Pors

Gerda Wegener, Queen of Hearts (Lili), 1928.
Photo: Morten Pors

Collecting some 178 works, the exhibition enables us to dive into the Wegener couple’s world and their joint transgendered output.

This incredible story has also now inspired a film, The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, with a theatrical release scheduled for January 2016.

Gerda Wegener, Two Cocottes with Hats, c. 1925. Photo Morten

Gerda Wegener, Two Cocottes with Hats (Lili and friend), c. 1925.
Photo: Morten Pors

At the Arken Museum, Copenhagen, November 7, 2015 – May 14, 2016

Nathalie Ernoult