FASHIONING DESIRE: THE ART OF GERDA WEGENER
In spring of 2021 Planting Fields presented approximately 60 works by Danish artist Gerda Wegener (1886 – 1940) and her spouse Lili Elbe (born Einar Wegener, 1882 – 1931) whose art and life reflected a passion for beauty, pleasure, and individuality. Contemporaries of Planting Fields’ owners, William R. and Mai Coe, the Wegeners met as young art students in Copenhagen and married soon after. Gerda Wegener’s combination of Art Deco and Art Nouveau paintings, drawings, and illustrations quickly garnered attention. Her fashion illustrations, cosmetic advertisements, and whimsical, erotic drawings celebrated the “New Woman”, independent, striking, and strong, shifting how women were represented while also challenging gender and sex identity. Her work was be shown alongside a selection of Einar Wegener’s post-impressionist landscape paintings, American artist Everett Shinn’s (1876 – 1953) neo-rococo drawings and paintings, and various fashion and lifestyle ephemera from Planting Fields’ collection, which together captured a sense of the changing aesthetics of the early twentieth century. Drawn primarily from private collections, Wegener’s groundbreaking drawings, paintings, and watercolors were on view to the public for the first time in the United States.
By incorporating the innovative, provocative, and beautiful work of Gerda Wegener and the lush landscapes of Einar Wegener into the highly decorated and designed context of Coe Hall, an early twentieth-century Tudor Revival home, this exhibition gave audiences an opportunity to view these extraordinary works for the first time and illuminated the cultural moment in which W.R. and Mai Coe lived and built their country estate. With affinities to Mai Coe’s interest in France and French style and the influence of Elsie de Wolfe’s interior design, the Wegener’s art resonates with both the cultural history and designed environment of Planting Fields. Einar Wegener’s landscapes draw inspiration from French formal gardens and are perfect complements to the Olmsted Brothers landscape surrounding the mansion. Gerda Wegener’s use of an erotic and sensitive female gaze to portray women and her combination of high and low cultural imagery place the artist as an innovative figure in the history of modernism, a history critical to the story of Planting Fields. Fashioning Desire was on view March 26 – June 26, 2022.
Gerda and Einar Wegener in front of Gerda Wegener’s On the Way to Anacapri, 1924
Gerda Wegener, Venus and Amor, c.1920, oil on canvas, Collection of Hong Gyu Shin, Courtesy Shin Gallery