She herself matched this image of the “New Woman” in the 1920s, a type associated with the bob haircut and the demonstrative gestures of a younger generation aspiring to emancipation. These women were inquisitive, urbane, unencumbered by material worries, and they took advantage of the freedoms society offered between the two world wars as it leapt towards modernisation.
As an occupation, photography fitted neatly into this new age. It held out the promises of artistic expression, professional recognition and even financial independence. And so in 1927 Marianne Breslauer decided to learn the craft of photography at the Lette-Verein in Berlin. Her creativity and talent soon emerged, and she was only eighteen when she produced an image of Paul Citroen which still ranks among the outstanding examples of portrait photography in the style known as “Neues Sehen”.
As soon as she completed her training, she travelled to Paris, the “destination of her dreams”. Here, in the most exciting cultural metropolis of the times, she was captivated by the beauty of the city and the colourful effervescence of its streets. Very quickly she discovered that the enervating immediacy of this life resonated more closely with her own temperament than studio photography. Like other great photographers of her day, she discerned poetry in those unassuming and unheeded moments that draw closer to the essence of life than do those spectacular events so dear to photojournalism. She sought her pictures, then, in parks and along the Seine, observing tramps and street performers. Without attempting any social critique, these images capture the day-to-day existence of ordinary people. On her return to Berlin, she was able to sell some of these shots to magazines.
Marianne Breslauer left behind her a small but significant oeuvre. Her photographs reveal how naturally she had absorbed the visual idiom of “Neues Sehen” and the aesthetics of modern art since Impressionism. This is a new way of seeing, reflecting a new take on the world and at the same time a shift in perception itself.
The exhibition of some 130 photographs at the BERLINISCHE GALERIE has been taken over from the Swiss Foundation of Photography. It is the first comprehensive retrospective, with many previously unknown originals and also fresh prints of original negatives from the photographer’s personal estate.
The BERLIN’S MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, PHOTOGRAPHY AND ARCHITECTURE has combined this monographic display of the work of Marianne Breslauer with a second section drawn from our own collection. This shows about 60 works by ten female colleagues, among them Yva, Steffi Brandl, Lotte Jacobi and Marta Astfalck-Vietz. Alongside these women, some famous and others familiar only to experts, we are better placed to understand the particular quality of Marianne Breslauer’s photography, but also parallels in the work of these other artists that are rooted in their time. In addition, this provides another opportunity to illustrate the significant role these women played in the photography of the modern age.
At this point, however, Marianne Breslauer was still a long way from earning a living from her photography. She considered taking up reportage, joining the newspaper publisher Ullstein to learn the techniques, but she concluded that daily news meant too little to her and that she did not possess the unscrupulousness touch so vital to that line of business.
In the years that followed she undertook lengthy journeys to Italy, Palestine and Spain. There is a magnificent eloquence in the way she portrays the silent uneventfulness to life on the streets and squares. Taken as a whole, these travel photographs do not simply recreate an atmosphere of exotic places, but convey something of that otherness of foreign cultures and lifestyles.
She repeatedly returned to Berlin and Paris, where she took photographs of artists and well-known figures in the art world.
In 1936, Marianne Breslauer was forced to emigrate from Germany. First to Amsterdam, and later to Switzerland. She had photographed the world she loved; under these new circumstances she took no pleasure in it. Besides, the conditions of her own life had changed, bringing exile, family and children. In her second career, she proved as passionate about the art trade and she had been about photography.
Exhibition of the Swiss Foundation of Photography, Winterthur in cooperation with the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin's Museum of Modern Art, Photography and Architecture
Under the patronage of the Swiss embassy Berlin