Wegener, Gerda. (1886–1940)

"2000 Lilas" (Amor and Young Woman) – Designs for a perfume advertisement, 1919

Three variations of an illustration by the Danish artist, known for her progressive feminist portraiture, all showing a cherub spritzing a young woman with perfume.  The original work accomplished in ink and paint, shown as the middle-sized example of the three pieces, in which a flowering tree can be seen behind the cherub. The artist has signed lower left beneath the cherub's bow, but her signature has been later obscured in the process of reworking the piece towards publication.  A few notations surround the design, possibly in the hand of the artist who appears to have designated the original version "Mauvais" ("bad") in the upper left, adding the date 19/4/19 and what appears to be the initial "G."  The verso bears a small label "2000 Lilas" ("2000 Lilacs"), likely the work's title and/or a reference to an earlier version of the perfume that the artworks were intended to promote.  The smallest iteration of the design is a hand-retouched and altered photograph of the work, adapted to a heart-shaped background. Likewise, the largest iteration is a photographic reproduction with different alterations in ink and paint, adapting the illustration in varied ways. The two reworkings both mounted to slightly larger rigid backings, some small holes and dirt, yellowing to the smaller piece, else fine.  Sketch is approx. 15.5 x 18.5 inches (39 x 48 cm.), the others approximately 12.25 x 13 inches (31 x 32.5 cm) and  15.5 x 19 inches (39 x 49 cm).

In 1912, Wegener moved to Paris with her husband, working as a painter and fashion illustrator for magazines such as VogueLa Vie Parisienne, and Fantasio and for Arys perfumes.  The present design appears in print as an advertisement in 1920 for the popular perfume L'Amour dans le Coeur by Arys which was marketed in a now much collected Lalique bottle. A contemporary magazine page extract with the final perfume advertisement is also included. 

Steeped in Art Deco aesthetics, the paintings of Gerda Wegener were considered radical for their engagement with gender, identity, and sexuality.  While attending school, she met her future husband and muse Einar Wegener, who would later transition genders to become Lili Elbe.  Their relationship would inspire the 2000 novel The Danish Girl, later adapted into an Oscar-winning film.  “I like to think of her as the Lady Gaga of the 1920s,” says art historian Andrea Rygg Karberg, who has curated a new exhibition of Gerda’s work in Copenhagen. “Gerda was a pioneer who spent two decades as part of the Parisian art scene and revolutionised the way women are portrayed in art.” In short, Gerda Wegener was A Big Deal. “Throughout history, paintings of beautiful women were done by men,” says Rygg Karberg. “Women were typically seen through the male gaze. But Gerda changed all that because she painted strong, beautiful women with admiration and identification – as conscious subjects rather than objects.” (The Guardian, September 28, 2015)  (18846)

Art & Design