Gerda Wegener

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Gerda Wegener
Gerda Wegener.jpg
Gerda Wegener (1904)
Born Gerda Marie Fredrikke Gottlieb
(1886-03-15)15 March 1886
Hammelev, Denmark
Died 28 July 1940(1940-07-28) (aged 54)
Frederiksberg, Denmark
Nationality Danish
Known for Painting
Movement Art Nouveau

Gerda Marie Fredrikke Gottlieb (15 March 1886 – 28 July 1940) was a Danish illustrator and painter from French descent, best known for her erotica.

Life and work[edit]

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Gottlieb grew up in the provinces, the daughter of a clergyman. She moved to Copenhagen to pursue her education at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. While there she met fellow artist Einar Wegener (later Lili Elbe) (1882–1931).[1] They married in 1904, when Gottlieb was 19 and Wegener 21.[2] They traveled through Italy and France, eventually settling in Paris in 1912. Gerda found much success both as a painter and as illustrator for Vogue, La Vie Parisienne, Fantasio, and many other magazines. As she found fame in Paris, Gerda also developed a following in her home country. She held exhibitions at Ole Haslunds gallery in Copenhagen at regular intervals. More than her talent, her success came largely from her diligence and the advantages that her unusual marriage brought her.

At the time, many considered Elbe to be the more talented artist, but she toned down her own work and profile to help her wife in her artistic endeavors. Elbe posed for Gerda in women's clothes one day, filling in for Gottlieb's absentee model. Asked to wear stockings and heels so her legs could substitute for those of the model, she adopted the persona of "Lili Elbe", and felt surprisingly comfortable in the clothing.[3] "Lili" became Gerda's favorite model, and over time, Gottlieb became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gottlieb's depictions of petite femmes fatales was in fact Gottlieb's spouse.[2]

Elbe eventually identified as a male-to-female transgender woman. She had the first publicly known sex reassignment surgery in history in 1930. Gottlieb supported Elbe throughout her transition. The Wegeners' marriage was declared null and void in October 1930 by Christian X, the King of Denmark at that time.

In 1931, Gerda Wegener married the Italian officer, aviator and diplomat Major Fernando Porta (born 1896) and moved with him to Morocco (specifically Marrakech and Casablanca). She divorced Porta in 1936 and returned to Denmark in 1938. She held her last exhibition in 1939, but by this time she was largely out of fashion. She died in July 1940.

Book and film[edit]

The Danish Girl, David Ebershoff's 2000 novel about Einar/Lili and Gerda, was an international bestseller and was translated into a dozen languages. Wegener is portrayed by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander in the upcoming film The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper and starring Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe.

Books illustrated by Wegener[edit]


  1. ^ "Conway's Vintage Treasures". Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b She and She: The Marriage of Gerda and Einar Wegener. The Copenhagen Post. 3 July 2000
  3. ^ The Arts and Transgender.

External links[edit]