Born in Berlin in 1890, Jeanne Mammen lived in Paris from the time she was five years old until 1914. At the outbreak of the First World War, Mammen’s wealthy merchant father suddenly became an “enemy alien” to the French. The French government seized all of his possessions, and the Mammen family fled first to Holland, and then settled once more in Berlin. Her financial resources depleted, Jeanne Mammen drew upon the artistic education she had acquired in Paris, Brussels, and Rome to support herself. Despite the initial difficulty of earning a living as an artist, she found work as an illustrator for such prominent periodicals as Die Dame, Simplicissimus, Uhu, and Ulk.
Mammen had never truly known Berlin before moving to Paris. Her return, as a young woman, to her birthplace consequently brought with it a pronounced sense of estrangement, which, in turn, colored her depictions of Berlin life. Mammen’s Weimar-era works offer a social critique of the modern metropolis through their exploration of the “New Woman’s” relationships to her work, to men, and to other women. It is only in her images of interactions among women (many of these with erotic overtones) that Mammen conveys any sense of true intimacy.
In the spring of 1933, the Nazi press labeled Mammen’s artwork as “Jewish” and banned publication of her series of eight lithographs illustrating Peter Louys’s “Les Chansons de Bilitis,” an exploration of lesbian love. Thereafter, Mammen’s opposition to the Third Reich’s cultural agenda compelled her to cease exhibiting and to discontinue her illustration work for any publications that conformed to Nazi standards. Between 1933 and 1945, Mammen earned her living selling various items from a cart she pulled through the streets, and also attended local drawing courses. Her output at the close of World War II and from the years that immediately followed evidence the tremendous hardship of living in a city largely devastated by battle.
Mammen remained artistically active for the last thirty years of her life, although her later works have never achieved the renown of those produced during the Weimar years. She died in Berlin in 1976.